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Building Kind Classrooms: Books & Activities for Developing Empathy

A few weeks ago, we posted an article about the ways in which young children demonstrate and express empathy (use the following links to find the article in English or in Spanish). This week, we follow-up with a list of books and activities to help you help children practice those important relationship-building skills.

Whether you are working with children in-person or virtually, there are many activities that you can facilitate to help them learn empathy skills and deepen their emotional intelligence. The activities below introduce the concept of empathy and encourage children to think about how they can be more kind and compassionate towards their peers.

Wrinkled Hearts

Image & activity from Keep it Kool in Kinderland

This simple activity is easy to set up and offers a tangible experience to help children understand the lasting impact of hurtful words.


Cut out hearts with construction paper and give each child a heart to hold. Or, use one large piece of craft paper and allow all of the children to share one big, group-sized heart. Take turns saying words or actions that could hurt someone’s feelings, while crinkling the heart each time. Let children know that this is what happens when we use unkind words or actions to hurt other people. Afterward, unfold the hearts and try to repair them by making them flat or by using stickers or bandages to repair them.

Explain to children that the wrinkles happen when we use hurtful words, and the bandages show what happens when we say we’re sorry. This activity helps children to see not only the impact of hurtful words, but also the powerful impact of saying we’re sorry. We can help to bandage up and flatten out the wrinkles with kind words and apologies to make our friends’ hearts feel better while their hurt feelings heal. You might ask children what else they can do to make someone feel better after they’ve hurt them, by asking “How else can we make our friends’ hearts feel better? Maybe we could give them hugs, or share a special toy with them? What other ways can we help to heal wrinkled hearts?” 

Adapting this Activity to Virtual Learning

This activity can also be done via virtual learning by having the same conversation, but with a demonstration of wrinkling and flattening out a construction paper heart during a video conference. You might ask children what kinds of things they think could help to repair the heart, by asking questions such as: “Will band-aids make it better? How can we make our heart flat and smooth again?” You can then show children on camera how the wrinkles can be flattened, and how we can use band-aids to help the heart heal, just as we can tell our friends that we are sorry if we have hurt them.

Because children are at home, you might ask them how they can show their parents or siblings that they are sorry if they hurt them to make the activity more relevant to their current environment

More Ideas & Printables

This activity is based on the children’s book, Chrysanthemum. You can do the activity on its own, or after reading Chrysanthemum to the children. See the links below for more ideas:

Empathy Wall

An empathy wall can be created in any classroom by using post-its to take note of children demonstrating empathy and kindness towards their peers.


Image & activity from Teachstarter

Find a blank wall (it doesn’t have to be too big!) in your classroom and create a banner or sign that says “Empathy Wall.” The sign doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should be colorful so that the space feels special and celebratory. This area should feel exciting to children, as a way to encourage positive behavior. Put a stack of post-its and a few markers near the wall so that they’re available when you need them. When children do something kind, write it down on a post-it and stick it up on the wall to celebrate. Click here for more inspiration and details.

Adapting this Activity to Virtual Learning

This activity can be done in virtual meetings by creating an empathy  wall in your own space, and sharing it with children during a video chat. You might start a conversation by asking children about kind things they have done for others, or that  others have done for them. Their comments can be put onto post-it notes and shared on the wall behind you. Then, take a photo and send it to the families, encouraging them to ask their children about the kind actions discussed during the activity.

Other options for doing this activity virtually include: using Google slides and  putting the post-it images on a single slide, or using an online whiteboard application, such as Miro.

Children’s Books about Empathy

Children’s books are always a great way to start conversations about emotions, kindness, and empathy! As children hear about the experiences of the characters in the books, they practice thinking about other people’s perspectives and feelings. The books listed below  can all be read with children in-person or virtually.

You might facilitate conversations after reading the story by starting with guided questions, such as: “How do you think this character felt when that happened?” “What was she feeling at the beginning of the story?” “What was he feeling at the end of the story?” Or, you can try guided statements to point children in the right direction, such as “Wow, he’s lost and he looks really sad.” “Oh no, she’s feeling really lonely. That’s not a nice way to feel. Have you ever felt like that before?” 

The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions

This board book is particularly well-suited for toddlers and young preschoolers to foster simple conversations about feelings and emotions.

A monster who is experiencing a variety of feelings at the same time gets help from a little girl who shows him what each feeling means, using colors.

I Walk with Vanessa

This children’s book has beautiful illustrations, without any words. The story follows a little girl who moves away from home to a new town and new school.

This particular book gives children an opportunity to look at what is happening in the images on each page and think about what the characters are feeling.


This book is a wonderful mix of learning about numbers and colors, while also learning the importance of embracing what makes each of us different.

The book is appropriate for a variety of ages, as younger children will enjoy the simple colors and counting and older children will be able to understand the deeper messages about bullying and the importance of kindness.

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