As part of my character-building series, we are going to explore how to teach empathy to kids using Play-Doh mats. This lesson comes with a number of free printables, and it helps kids learn how to read facial expressions so as to better understand another’s emotions.
Looking for more lessons on empathy? Check out this empathy lesson.
How to Teach Empathy to Kids
While for some kids empathy comes very naturally, for others, empathy needs to be taught. Especially in this day in age, kids sometimes have a harder time reading facial expressions.
For kids that lived through the pandemic, wearing masks played a part in delayed development in this area. Screens can also play a part, as so many kids are interacting with each other via media more than face-to-face.
Children who are uniquely wired can also need extra help learning to be empathetic and hone in on the emotions of others. Reading facial expressions and body language isn’t always intuitive.
This activity comes with a free printable and teaches children how to read facial expressions to help determine emotions. Using a tactile, hands-on, sensory activity like Play-Doh adds another layer that not only helps kids learn but also makes it a lot of fun.
This empathy lesson can be used in homes, therapy sessions, or classrooms. All kids would benefit from this learning activity.
Materials Needed for this Lesson on Empathy
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- Free Printable Play-Doh Mats that Teach Empathy
- Laminator – The best way to use Play-Doh mats is to laminate them. They can be used over and over, and you won’t have dough sticking to your surface. I’ve loved having my own laminator for such projects, and they are more affordable than you might imagine.
- Laminator Sheets
- Expo Markers
- Heavy Cardstock
How to Teach Kids About Empathy Using My Empathy Play-Doh Mats
Because I used to be a teacher, I will be writing this in lesson format.
Objective: Children will use Play-Doh mats with faces portraying different emotions to explore the concept of empathy and learn to read how others might be feeling based on their facial expressions.
Ask the Following Questions:
- Does anyone know what the word “empathy” means? (Answer: The ability to feel and understand the emotions of another)
- Does anyone remember a time they had empathy for someone else?
- Can anyone remember a time they felt someone had empathy toward them?
- What are some ways to know what another person is feeling? (Possible Answers: What they say. How they act. What their body language looks like. What their facial expressions look like.
Say: “Today we are going to learn about empathy and how it relates to the expressions someone might make on their face.”
Ahead of time, prepare your mats. Print out the images provided in the link within the material list onto heavy cardstock paper. I use heavy cardstock for durability reasons. After printing, laminate these images so they can be used over and over and so the dough doesn’t stick to the mat.
How this next part looks depends on if you are working with individual kids at home or in a classroom setting.
Essentially, you want kids to roll out their playdough and fill in the blank spaces on their Play-Doh mats. Kids might need a lesson on how to roll out a long snake for the circle that makes out the border of the face.
If working in a classroom setting, each child can receive a different mat. In a home setting, kids will be able to do a variety of faces.
After completing their mats, kids can write out the emotion portrayed using an expo marker.
Next, children can share their Play-Doh creations while explaining the emotion that is demonstrated on their mat. Encourage them to mimic sad, angry, happy, etc. faces and try and describe some of the characteristics they see in a face that is displaying that emotion.
- What are some appropriate responses if we see someone who is angry, sad, surprised, etc.?
- Is it bad to feel these emotions? Of course not. All of the emotions we feel make us human, and it’s important and healthy to have these feelings. What we do with emotions is important though, so that leads us to the next question…
- What are some healthy ways to handle things when we feel angry, frustrated, etc… Let kids explore their ideas.
Character Building Series
More good news! Each trait comes with over a week’s worth of lessons. You could work on the character with your kids every single day of the year if you chose to follow along. Here is an intro to the series.
This character-building activity focuses on empathy. I originally used the word sensitivity, but I have felt empathy is a better fit. I am working to implement changes for all my sensitivity lessons to be changed to empathy lessons.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson on how to teach empathy to kids and will explore the other offerings I have here at Meaningful Mama.