Playground Activities That Teach Children About Kindness and Cultivate Empathy
Pre-schoolers are egocentric beings, where they perceive the world exclusively through their own perspective (Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, 1967).
They are apt to focus on themselves and their desires, which can seem cruel. However, usually by the time they are 4 years old, children can see things from another person’s viewpoint.
Much like other necessary life skills, with time, kindness and empathy can be nurtured, too. Although kindness and compassion isn’t directly part of the educational curriculum, it’s importance shouldn’t be overlooked.
As many as 1 in 5 children report being bullied and for many, this can lead to overwhelming effects into adulthood. Kindness and empathy is best learned by feeling it so that they can imitate it.
Here are 3 playground activities that can support children’s interaction and engagement with others in an empathic way to enhance their personal, social and emotional development (PSED):
1. Cooperative, Teambuilding Games
Collaborative play offers the opportunity for children to build a community, to work according to other people’s style and get to know each other by working towards a common goal.
A fun way to do this is by hosting a quiz show in the outdoor amphitheatre, where children are split into groups. The teacher can act as the quiz master, asking questions to reinforce literacy, numeracy and things learned in class.
Children will work together with their group to answer the questions and take on the approach and opinions of their teammates.
Alternatively, body-bending games, such as body spellers on the performance stage encourages children to bend, twist and turn, whilst working collectively to spell a word for their audience. The team with the most points are the champions.
Sport activities such as netball, football, hockey and rugby on the outdoor MUGA, encourages cohesion, collaboration and communication and builds a sense of togetherness amongst classmates. Afterall, there is no “I” in team!
2. Act it Out!
Throw Around Some Compliments -Literally!
By creating a circle using Playground Seating such as outdoor mushroom seats or grass-topped seats, children can throw a ball to each other, whomever catches the ball, must offer a kind compliment to the person on their right.
Using an Outdoor Performance Stage children will take turns to act out an emotion for their classmates, by modelling the body language, without the use of words.
Children will be encouraged to look for clues and guess which emotion that is being represented.
This game is effective in teaching children consciousness of other people’s feelings and that not everyone perceives emotions in the same way. It highlights individual perspective through acting and observing others.
These activities will aid children to advance their understanding for others and to spread kindness and compassion.
3. Recognise Negative Emotions
Being familiar with emotions can help children to control them better and not to always react to them. The best way to do this is by clearly stating their feelings and finding ways to help children to ‘act out’ their emotions in a therapeutic manner.
For example, a couple of classmates have fallen out over who oversees pouring the water from a jug into the water channels, on the Water Wall. The supervising teacher can remove both from the situation and ask them to identify their feelings and show them healthy ways of letting go of their negative thoughts.
The mark making panels can provide an artistic, expressive outlet for children to release their anger, disappointment and negativity by drawing, painting and writing in the outdoors, whilst increasing their serotonin levels.
Equally, outdoor musical instruments can be helpful in providing a cathartic release and help students to make connections between their emotions and subsequent responsive behaviours.
Equipment such as this can be used to assist children to calm down following an incident, to ensure they are in a state of mind that allows them to reflect on their behaviour. When children are in harmony with others, and can be reflective, it increases empathy and consideration for others too.
Kindness and empathy are fundamentals aspects of civilised society and should be taught and encouraged in schools.
Several scientific studies have shown that kindness and compassion for others, has many physical and emotional benefits such as an increase in endorphins resulting in better mood, sleep, better self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Likewise, it provides the much-needed antidote to bullying.
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