Children’s Activities to Foster Connection and Empathy

We currently have an opportunity to help children understand the experiences of others and to explore creative ways they can positively affect the world around them.

At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

 

Being stuck at home is no reason for us to lose touch with the world beyond our walls. Now is the perfect time to encourage our children to develop a greater understanding of their community and improve their connection to their world. We currently have an opportunity to nurture children’s sense of empathy, to help them understand the experiences of others, and to ultimately explore creative ways they can positively affect other people’s lives.

Below are some suggestions of ways families can explore the world from home and some ways for you and your children to help make the world a kinder, brighter place.

Explore Through Reading

We all know that there is no better way to expand a child’s horizons than through reading. Books can immerse us in different cultures and can build a deep sense of empathy by introducing us to characters of different races, genders, backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

You can find searchable databases of diverse books at:

For lists of recent books featuring diverse protagonists, visit:

While libraries are currently closed, you can still rent e-books and audiobooks from many of them. We also recommend checking out:

  • Storynory for myths and legends from around the world (in free text and audio versions)
    Storyline Online for wonderful selections read aloud by famous actors.

Explore Through Technology

We may not be able to travel the world right now physically. Still, there are some incredible opportunities to access treasures from different countries and eras through your screen and to gain greater insight into cultural contributions from all over the world.

  • Check out New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s #MetKids page to explore masterpieces and artifacts from dozens of countries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  •  Explore the Louvre Museum’s world-class art collection, where children can go on virtual field trips to Ancient Egypt or the Great Wall of China.
  • Take Scholastic’s Ellis Island virtual tour to gain insight into the American immigrant experience.

Explore Through Creating

Creating art can be a powerful way to expose children to cultural traditions from all over the world.

  • Consider making Guatemalan worry dolls, and nurture your child’s sense of empathy as they imagine what kinds of worries might be felt by children living in other parts of the world.
  • To give your children an introduction to Indian culture, try tracing your child’s hands on a sheet of paper and let them decorate the hand shapes inspired by traditional wedding Mehndi designs.
  • If you’re feeling festive, make a Mexican piñata or a Diwali lantern, and of course, make sure to discuss with your children how these are used in their respective cultures.
  • You can even explore both the art and the music of other cultures by creating your own musical instruments – try making a Chinese New Year drum, or an African Djembe drum.
Four worry dolls. | Jessica Stamen

Explore Through Playing

Every child in the world loves to play, so why not introduce your children to games played by children in other countries?

  • Try Luta de Galo (“Fight of the Roosters”), a silly but challenging version of tag from Brazil that involves hopping on one foot and using one arm to pull a bandanna or napkin from your opponent’s waistband, while they do the same.
  • In Pilolo, a game played by children in Ghana, someone hides an object, and then after they yell “Pilolo!” children race to find it and bring it back across the finish line.
  • You can also teach your kids Semut, Oranj, Gajah, an Indonesian version of Rock, Paper, Scissors in which fingers represent elephants, humans and ants. These games are all on heavy rotation in our house.

By sharing the experiences of others through literature, art, and play, children naturally develop a sense of how we are all connected. This leads to a sense of global citizenship and could inspire children a desire to make their own connections and finding ways that they can use their talents and creativity to touch others’ lives. Although in-person connection with others outside the home may not be possible, there are many ways that children can reach out to their community to foster connection and spread joy.

Connecting Through Art

Why not spread some joy in your own neighborhood through colorful art? Try decorating your sidewalk with positive images and messages. Brainstorm with your child what kind of images and messages might be most powerful in lifting people’s spirits. You can also paint pictures and notes on little rocks, and leave a few along the sidewalk. You can stay inside and create a window display in your own home by taping colored paper or drawings to the inside of your windows or painting your windows using washable paint. Or try artfully arranging stuffed animals in the window to make a tableau!

A child reaches up toward many colorful construction paper hearts taped to a window. | Jessica Stamen

Connecting Through Writing

Sending letters is a powerful and deeply personal way to reach out to others. Kids can send letters and drawings to friends and family members, even those who might live nearby but feel a world away. It’s also worth considering sending letters to isolated adults who will deeply appreciate a note or drawing from your family. You can send letters and pictures to Love for the Elderly, and they’ll pass them along, or contact your local senior center to see if they are accepting letters to their residents.

Connecting Through Giving

No matter our financial resources, most of us have something we can give to those in need. Now is the perfect time to have your children join you in going through your toy, book, or clothing collections, to set aside anything in good condition that could be donated. Many organizations are still accepting donations but you can also put them aside until collections resume. Or if you have a few dollars to spare, consider having your children join you in “shopping” for items for other families. You can ask your local shelter or food pantry what they need, or check out Miry’s List to shop for newly arrived refugee families who are particularly in need right now.

For more suggestions of at-home activities that develop empathy and foster connection, check out the Small Spaces, Big World Facebook group.

Remember, you may be home, but there’s a big world out there – happy exploring!