Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teaching Young Children about Compassion

We all want our children to learn that it is better to give than to receive and the importance of putting others first. But sometimes it is difficult for our toddlers and pre-schoolers to look beyond themselves. Instead of giving in to the mindset of consumerism ("it's all about me") this holiday season, how about we work with our little ones on understanding the concepts of compassion and empathy? These are traits that all of us should be constantly striving towards.

Here are some books that can act as starting points for discussions on considering other people's perspectives and showing kindness on a regular basis.

1. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud

This book introduces kindness as a metaphor that young children can visualize. It says that everyone in the world carries an invisible bucket that can be either filled or emptied by other people. If we show love to someone, it fills their bucket and makes them feel happy. If we ignore them or say mean things, it empties their bucket and makes them feel sad. This book provides examples that a pre-school aged child can relate to about how to be a “bucket-filler” and not a “bucket-dipper”.

I started reading this with Ryan when he was two years old. He understood the concept well enough to remember what it means to be a “bucket-filler” and to apply it to real-life situations. For example, if we noticed that a friend looked sad, I would ask Ryan, What could you do right now to fill your friend's bucket? and he would answer something simple like, Share a toy with her or Give her a hug.

2. How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath

This book continues to teach the idea that each person has an invisible bucket. The concept is taken to a deeper level through descriptions of slightly more complex situations, specifically at school. I would say that this book is at the perfect level of understanding for older pre-schoolers or kindergarteners. However, I think that it is still worthwhile to read this book with my three year old and to discuss the situations with him. He seems to enjoy reading about how the "big kids" act.

3. Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson

This book focuses on empathy and encouraging children to imagine what another person might be feeling. Since young children are generally focused solely on their own feelings, noticing how another person feels is huge deal. I like that this book encourages young children to start thinking outside of themselves in everyday situations. It reinforces positive things that Ryan already naturally does, such as helping somebody to clean up if they spill something and showing concern when somebody is hurt, while also suggesting new ways to practice this concept.

4. Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen and Kristina Swarner 

This book builds appreciation for various jobs that people do throughout our community. After reading this book, I feel like Ryan values these helpers more, and even notices the little things that mommy and daddy does for him around the house. There is a part that talks about cooks "working in kitchens, making meals for people who don't have homes". This immediately prompted Ryan to start asking questions and sparked a discussion about what it means to be homeless and hungry. This book seemed to opened up his mind to start thinking about good and helpful things that he can do.

5. Our Peaceful Classroom by Aline D. Wolf and Montessori School Children Worldwide

This book describes how to be considerate and peaceful while at school. Since a lot of children’s books depict a traditional classroom setting, it was fun for Ryan read a book that he could actually relate to his Montessori classroom. He immediately recognized the specific materials that he works with at school, such as the pink tower, brown stairs, taking care of classroom plants and pets, pouring materials, flags of different countries, materials from around the world, and the Matreshka nesting dolls.

This book also talks about the importance of sharing, taking turns, speaking using kind words, making friends with those who are alone, using hands for helping instead of hurting, picking up trash, and and sorting trash for recycling. It also provides some facts about Maria Montessori and her philosophy. It would be a great addition to any primary Montessori classroom.

Showing Compassion

I believe that living by example and demonstrating what it means to have a giving heart are the best things that we can do to help our children learn compassion. They look up to us and imitate what we do, so naturally, compassionate parents tend to raise compassionate kids.

I'm sure that you have all heard of random acts of kindness and paying it forward. These are wonderful things to do with children because, not only are they fun, but they teach them practical ways to serve others. I think that the holiday season is a good time to begin working on understanding and prioritizing these values.

Here are a few activities that several other mommies and I came up with:

1. Collect old towels/blankets for an animal shelter
2. Donate books to a library
3. Donate canned goods to a food bank
4. Take art supplies and stuffed animals to the children's floor of the hospital
5. Pick out clothes and toys for a needy family and help with wrapping the presents
6. Make a meal or bake cookies for a sick friend, a new mom, neighbor, baby-sitter, mailman, garbage collector, crossing guard, etc.
7. Write thank you notes/cards and send them to troops, fire fighters, police officers, etc.
8. Decorate holiday cards and pass them out to those in assisted living and elderly homes
9. Hand out balloons to kids at a grocery store or Target
10. Hide dollars in the toy section at the dollar store
11. Feed parking meters
12. Leave candy canes on cars in the parking lot at school or a store
13. Bring hot cocoa to kids at bus stop or anyone else standing outside
14. Pay for the person behind you at the drive-through or coffee shop
15. Clean up litter in the neighborhood and sort the recyclables
16. Make or buy a wreathe or holiday ornament for a neighbor
17. Help out with a chore that you don't normally do
18. Walk someone else's dog
19. Bring flowers or homemade gifts to a teacher, helper, or relative
20. Attend a friend's special performance and cheer him/her on with handmade posters

A Few More Ideas...

Sponsor a Child

We have enjoyed writing letters back and forth to Peter, who lives in Zambia and has 
the exact same birthday as Ryan. It has been fun to watch Peter grow, through 
pictures, over the past few years, and to know that we are making a difference.

Send Shoebox Gifts to Needy Children

When Ryan found out that some children do not have any toys and their parents do not have money to buy them presents, he was very eager and excited to pick out a few small tokens to send to a needy child.

Pray for Others and Thank God for Blessings

Ryan is beginning to understand what it means to talk to God and to sincerely pray for the people 
that he cares about. I love watching his little heart grow with compassion for others.

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