Character education is, in my opinion, more important in educating our children than scholastic curriculum. With the increasing diversity in our world and in the United States, it is becoming ever more important to introduce our children to the many cultures and experiences of those around them. We live our lives based on our experiences, and in order to be empathetic we must explore the experiences and life stories of others. It’s easy to take for granted the world that we live in today, forgetting that rampant racism was alive and well even just one generation ago. Or even to be so naive to think that we do not still have slavery in our world.
Empathy is an important concept to teach our children and one at the top of our character education list. It’s literal definition is having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This means both caring for others, but also understanding our differences as people. Can you imagine how much we could better our world if we all were even just a little bit more empathetic? Not only do I want to raise my daughter to the best of my abilities, but I want to raise her to better the world around her. To me this does not necessarily mean finding a cure for cancer, but loving on those who do have the disease. I feel like this is one of the most important traits I can try to teach my children and one that can build the most character.
Character Education through Multi-Cultural Books
It may seem odd, but exposing children to other ways of life is one way to help teach empathy. It is important for children to understand there are lots of people in this world with various beliefs, skin colors, customs, sizes, and ways of life. One way to do that is through Multicultural books. From Native culture to African fables and even to Hawaiian tales, they help us open a window to the world both far and near and help us as parents explain and celebrate the differences we have as people as well as the similarities. (Some of the ones we have been reading to our toddler are linked through the pictures below)
Browsing through National Geographic magazines and watching travel shows can even be a starting point too. It opens the door to talk about the beauty in other people that are not like us and how our customs probably seem odd to them. This can help us learn about diseases in other parts of the world, world hunger, and more.
Sponsoring a Child, Missionary, or other Effort
Whether it’s through Compassion International, A Pen Pal service, or through a church, sponsoring a child or mission is a great way to increase multicultural awareness and empathy for others in our child(ren). This makes studying a culture and a people real. When you know that you are helping a child receive medical attention and that you can send letters and communicate with them creates a relationship. There is typically a true desire to help and to learn more when a human connection has been made rather than just reading from a book or watching a show. One of the missions we support is in India. This is a great door opener for us because my husband has done missions an orphanage in Kakinada, India. He is able to talk about life there from his own perspective.
Character Education Activities that Teach Empathy
I love teaching about diversity in ways that illustrate to children how we may be different on the outside, but we are the same on the inside. It’s beautiful to be able to teach your child that God made us all differently, but that we are all created in His image. We all have a purpose even if it’s on a different path from our neighbor and we all deserve the right to life, the right to love, and the right to freedom.
One way to teach even toddlers about our diversity and similarities is to explore though cooking. My daughter is always in the kitchen with me and helps me cook so there are always opportunities to show her how something like an egg can come in many forms. Some are blue, some are small, some are speckled, some are white… but inside they all have the same “heart”.
Having children care for an animal or animals (even if only for a short time) can help teach empathy as well because they can see that animals hunger and thirst like we do and they can also get hurt and sick. For us, that means my daughter helps me feed them and take them out. There are always burs outside in our grass that get stuck in the paws of our dogs and it breaks my heart helping them relieve their pain. I know that my daughter has stepped on some too, so I know that she can empathize when they get them. Also, you can visit local shelter and/or volunteer there with your kids to help spread some love to animals that may not get much on a day to day basis.
Keep your car full of items to give to the homeless. This can be blankets, backpacks, jackets, bags of fruit, gift cards to get food, and more. Instead of driving by, you and your child(ren) can give them a gift. This means you are teaching your children to have a heart for the homeless. I like to believe the best in people, but know there are scammers out there. This is why we typically choose to not give money, but to give them a gift that they can use. This way I don’t have to convey any negatively toward them for my daughter to see, but that she sees an act or service
Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!