Mom reading to child

As a teacher and a parent, I try to model kindness and empathy in my everyday life. I admit it can be challenging, especially when I receive an unkind comment on a blog post or someone cuts me off in traffic.

I can tell my daughter and students to be kind, but there are other tools at my disposal at home and school that I can use to teach them about it.

One of those tools is books.

Teachers and parents use social stories to teach soft skills such as teamwork, communication and problem solving. Fiction books can also serve as lessons to teach empathy and kindness. Using books doesn’t just stop with little learners. In fact, there are many books that focus on being kind for older children and even young adults.

Encourage your children or students to read some of these books that teach kindness and empathy or, better yet, read them together!

1. "Rock, On Kindness! Pass It On!" by Stepheni Curran. You may have seen the trend of kindness rocks going around Omaha (and the country). People will write kind messages on decorated rocks and leave them in random places around town. Recipients will create more rocks or re-hide the sweet messages. This book is a great way to introduce these acts of kindness to kids in kindergarten through third grade. In this book, the protagonist, Ally, gives rocks to her friends. She practices kindness and recognizing the positivity of differences among her peer group. (Kindergarten through third grade.)

2. "Save Me a Seat" by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. This Golden Sower nominee is told from two perspectives — Joe, a struggling student who is often bullied, and Ravi, a new kid from India who also becomes the target of a bully in his class. The two boys form an unlikely friendship, and the whole story focuses on seeing things from the point of view of others and truly understanding the stories of others. Without spoiling the ending, you can know that the outcome is definitely one that focuses on the mission of being kind. (Middle school grades.)

3. "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green. Hazel and Augustus’ story may seem like just a young adult romance, but Green’s novel follows teens that are dealing will illness and life-changing events that help put things in perspective for the reader. Although "The Fault in Our Stars" may be touted as a story about cancer, it’s really about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and knowing that you may never really know what someone is going through. It’s a perfect novel for high school students to help teach empathy. The book has also been made into a blockbuster movie. (High school grades.)

Using books to teach children empathy and kindness helps teachers and parents do double duty! You’re promoting reading (or reading together) as well as modeling important concepts in a world where kindness can sometimes be hard to find.

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Jen Schneider is a local middle school teacher and mom to two children.

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