KINDNESS IS... Encouraging Empathy with Poetry

Do you ever wonder how you can cultivate kindness, both in the classroom and at home?


One of the most important things we can do as parents and educators is encourage kids to be kind. Not only does this foster a positive learning environment, but it also improves kids' sense of well-being and agency. Besides, spreading kindness makes the world a little brighter. And who doesn't want that? 



A simple way to develop this much-needed virtue is by sharing poems and poetry books with kindness themes. My book, Kindness is a Kite String, is all about the pay-it-forward power of kindness. The book begins with the words "Kindness is like sunshine, it starts the day off right," and shows a child hugging his mom. This starts a wave of kind deeds that ripples through the community, connecting diverse groups of people. As readers follow the story, they gather ideas for ways to lift others with kindness. 

Building Connections with Similes and Metaphors

Each action in Kindness is a Kite String is described using a simile or metaphor. For example, "Kindness is an open door to welcome others through." As a writer and teacher, I know power of similes and metaphors. They inspire mental pictures and unlock readers' imaginations. Similes and metaphors build connections that promote understanding. They help kids comprehend something unfamiliar or abstract (like kindness) by comparing it to something familiar (like sunshine or an open door).  When you think about it, similes and metaphors function in a similar way as being empathetic. When people act with kindness or empathy, they also bridge the gap between something familiar (themselves) and something that might seem new or different (others).

Kindness is a Kite String packs a double educational punch. You can use the book to spark conversations about empathy while modeling similes and metaphors in action.  That's good news, considering that knowledge of non-literal language, including similes and metaphors, is part of the ELA Common Core Standards. 

Kindness Is....

One fun way to reinforce the concept of similes and metaphors is by creating a collective kindness poem.  I love writing collective poems with students because they are non-threatening and engaging. In a collective poem, each child contributes a line according to a provided prompt or rule.  Collective poetry is a great warm-up writing activity because it invites all students to participate without the pressure of having to compose an entire poem from the get-go. It's also an effective way to explore different perspectives on a theme, like kindness. 

After reading Kindness is a Kite String with students, try writing a collective "kindness poem" with the prompt "Kindness is..."  Find the full, step-by-step lesson
here

Here's are some lines from a collective "kindness poem" I wrote with second and third graders.

Kindness is… a cuddly kitten- it makes you feel warm and cozy. Kindness is… a trampoline bouncing happiness from one person to another. Kindness is… Lego bricks because kind deeds build on one another. Kindness is… a bowl of popcorn because it’s meant to

You can display your completed kindness poem on an in-person or virtual bulletin board.  Not only will your kindness poem remind kids to act with kindness, but it will also provide great student-created examples of similes and metaphors. (I share additional information on how collective poems reinforce metaphors and provide another collective poem lesson here.)

Continue the Kindness Conversation

Keep inspiring kids to act with kindness with more kindness-themed poetry.  You can find many poems about giving and receiving kindness in A WORLD FULL OF POEMS, including the poem "Look for the Helpers," written by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. Michelle graciously gave me permission to share her poem in this post. 

Look for The Helpers

Look for the helpers
The healers
The givers

The arms-open 
Hand-holding
Everyday heroes

The ones who bring food
Extra clothes
And first aid

Who offer safe shelter
A roof
And a bed

Follow their lead
Be a hugger
A helper

A friend who will listen
A person
Who cares

When sharing "Look for the Helpers," ask students to notice which kind deeds mentioned in the poem are similar to deeds mentioned in Kindness is a Kite String.  In what ways have they shown kindness by being a "helper"?

Another wonderful poetry book to pair with Kindness is a Kite String is Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.  This book is packed with poems to inspire kindness and other positive social behaviors. 


I hope I've inspired you with some new ways to promote kindness with kids.  After all, as I say at the end of Kindness is a Kite String, "kindness is contagious. When you catch it... Pass it on!" 

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market  and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She is also the author of two picture books in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists and Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including  Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle loves visiting schools and speaking at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. Find out more at:  https://www.michelleschaub.com/





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