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How to Teach Empathy through Yoga and Literature

Wondering how to teach empathy through yoga practices?

One of our Kids Yoga Stories readers, Barbara, reached out asking if we could put together a yoga poster to celebrate empathy.

Here’s what she says about empathy:

“Studying the research of empathy experts like Michele Borba and Daniel Goleman and coupling it with my 35 years as an educator growing alongside children of all ages and stages from PreK through 12th grade, I’ve found the skill of empathy to be a critical one. Empathy, after all, gives kindness its why.

Picture it as a three-tiered process: Understanding another’s feelings starts with stepping into their story, to figure out who they are, what they’re going through, how they feel, and what they might want or need. It begins with active listening, with our whole bodies and our whole hearts, listening to understand rather than to respond. At this point, it’s a cognition, a mindset. Once we can understand the emotions behind an experience, we can move from empathy to compassion, to appreciate and embrace those feelings. Literally translated, compassion means co-suffering. We work in tandem to feel each other’s struggles and success with a desire to alleviate and/or celebrate them. It’s the affective part of the equation, a heart-set. From the head to the heart, but it can’t stop there.

Dr. Borba’s reminder that ‘dormant empathy does no good’ is a call to action. Head + Heart + Hands. I see you. You matter. I get it. You are not alone. We come to the rescue by giving that empathy and compassion wings. By serving. It’s the behavioral piece, a skill set. We have elevated empathy, nurtured and stretched it, because we moved from me to WE to lavish kindness on another human, to help hurting hearts heal. Mindset. Heart-set. Skill set. That’s how empathy works, and that’s why empathy is the most important thing that WE bring with us wherever we go.”

Barbara Gruener, Author of What’s Under Your Cape? and The Corner On Character blog 

Today, let’s look at two ways to plant the seeds of empathy into our children’s learning journey, through literature and movement. First is a list of five picture books perfect for prompting a discussion about empathy. Second is a downloadable yoga poster with five partner yoga poses.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

5 Picture Books on Empathy for Kids

Below you’ll find five children’s books that all offer a valuable lesson in understanding how someone else feels and ultimately about being kind to one other.

We’re All Wonders

by R.J. Palacio
This is the kid-friendly version of the wildly popular chapter book titled Wonder (which I also highly recommend). This simple story encourages readers to accept that we are all different and to see each person for who they truly are. “But maybe, just maybe … people can change the way they see.” Ages 4+

The Invisible Boy

by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton
Everyone can relate to this story of a child who feels left out. This story shows the importance of including each child and ensuring that everyone feels like they belong. “Maybe, just maybe, Brian’s not so invisible after all.” Ages 5+

The Rabbit Listened

by Cori Doerrfeld
This simple book shows that when the child makes a mistake, all the boy really needs is for someone to hug him and listen to him express his frustration. This is a sweet lesson to reinforce the idea of listening to each other. “Through it all, the rabbit never left.” Ages 3+

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse

by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken
This is a unique story about a girl who takes the time to get to know a boy, whom she initially judged and didn’t understand. This is a great story to discuss that kindness always wins, and to not judge a book—or a new friend—by its cover. “And then I thought Adrian Simcox had just about the best imagination of any kid in our whole school.” Ages 5+

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson
This is another relatable story about a girl who isn’t noticed in class. But after closely watching how the other children are treating each other, she takes a stand. This story encourages readers to pay attention to the relationships around them, demand kindness from every interaction, and stand up for each other. “I’m tired of seeing this terrible stuff. Stop hurting each other! This is enough!” Ages 5+

If you’re looking for more books that teach empathy, check these out:

Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy
by Bob Sornson and Shelley Johannes

In Your Shoes: A Story of Empathy (Cloverleaf Books ™ ― Stories with Character)
by Kristin Johnson and Mike Byrne

You, Me and Empathy: Teaching children about empathy, feelings, kindness, compassion, tolerance and recognising bullying behaviours
by Jayneen Sanders and Sofia Cardoso

5 Partner Yoga Poses to Celebrate Empathy

Follow the five-pose flow below to act out various pets that children adore. Don’t worry if you haven’t tried yoga before—just jump in and give it a try. Clear the space, practice barefoot, and have fun. The focus is on introducing yoga to children, not on perfectly aligned poses. Be safe, but also encourage them to explore their creativity.

As Barbara says, partner yoga is a perfect way for children to practice empathy for another person and begin to make that shift from a “me-to-we” perspective. In getting into and out of partner yoga poses, both people have to read body language, listen for verbal cues, and be body aware. 

Download the Empathy Yoga Poster below and try out these five partner yoga poses together. Don’t worry if you haven’t tried partner yoga before. Just follow the instructions and images, and give it a try. Ensure that your space is clear, and practicing barefoot on a non-slip surface is always a great idea.

1. We listen to each other.

How to practice Partner Extended Mountain Pose: Stand tall in Mountain Pose with your legs hip-width apart, facing each other, about two arm lengths away from each other. Take your arms straight up to the sky and touch your palms together. In sync with your partner, lean your torso forward and press your palms against your partner’s palms. Be in communication (through words or body language) to help balance each other. Come out of the pose when you’re both ready.

yoga poses for 2, partner poses for kids | Kids Yoga Stories
Partner Extended Mountain Pose

2. We connect and understand.

How to practice Partner Boat Pose: Sit facing each other with your bent legs out in front of you. Grab hands and inch your feet together until they are touching. Press into each other’s feet and lift your legs. Balance on your buttocks and try to straighten your legs into a V position. Hold the pose for a few moments before slowly coming down. 

yoga poses for 2 | Empathy Yoga Poses for Kids
Partner Boat Pose

3. We are compassionate.

How to practice Seesaw: Sit in an L position facing each other. You could either press your flexed feet together, or one person could bring their feet inside their partner’s legs. Reach forward and grab each other’s hands. To begin the seesaw, one partner leans back, bringing the other partner forward. Each partner takes a turn leaning back then bending forward to create the seesaw. Try this back-and-forth movement a few times.

partner yoga poses | seesaw pose | Kids Yoga Stories
Seesaw Pose

4. We are kind to each other.

How to practice Lizard on a Rock: The first partner comes to an all-fours position. Then shift back to place your buttocks on your heels. Slowly bring your forehead down to rest in between your knees, rest your arms down alongside your body, and take a few deep breaths in Child’s Pose. Once you are in a comfortable resting position, pretending to be a rock, the second partner can slowly place her buttocks on your lower back and begin to recline so that her back is lying on your spine and her head rests on your upper back. Encourage the second partner to open up and relax completely. To come out of the pose, gently lift your torso while helping your partner to slowly stand up.

yoga poses for 2, partner poses for kids, lizard on a rock pose | Kids Yoga Stories
Lizard on a Rock Pose

5. We feel empathy.

How to practice Partner Easy Pose: Come to sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position back-to-back with your partner. Take a few deep breaths together. Close your eyes and feel the rise and fall of your partner’s breath. Take the opportunity to tune in to how your partner might be feeling at this moment. 

yoga poses for 2, partner pose, partner easy pose | Kids Yoga Poses
Partner Easy Pose

After the partner yoga session, ask the children how they felt working with another person in the poses. Was it easy to understand how to get into the poses together? Did you know when they wanted to end the pose? Could you tell when the pose was stretched deep enough?

For more partner yoga poses, check out our 40 Partner Yoga Poses Cards for Kids, available in digital or printed format. 

Download Your Free Poster

empathy kids, empathy movement, yoga poses, free poster | Kids Yoga Stories


Empathy Yoga Poses for Kids,Partner poses for kids | Kids Yoga Stories
Empathy Yoga Poses for Kids

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