Beyond Our Neighbors: A Curriculum for Expanding Empathy and Compassion to "Others"

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Bullying, tribalism, and social isolation are challenging issues in communities across the United States. Although children - like adults - instinctively sort the world into "like me" and "not like me" groups, it is possible to expand their understanding of who is in their "like me" circles and to build respect and appreciation for those who are in their "unlike me" circles.

Doing Good Together has collaborated with Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to develop a curriculum that provides families and youth group leaders fun tools to encourage elementary school-age children to expand their "circle of concern" - helping them become aware of, have empathy for, and share kindness with people outside their immediate circle. This unique and accessible e-book, called Beyond our Neighbors: A Curriculum for Expanding Empathy and Compassion to Other's is free to download from our website. Here's a preview of what it offers.

–Jenny Friedman, Executive Director


The curriculum contains a comprehensive outline of strategies and projects. Here is some of what you'll find.

  • Art projects that help make children aware of people outside their immediate circle that they interact with everyday, like the school lunchroom staff, your mail carrier, or the elderly neighbor up the street - and dozens of easy ways to share gratitude or kindness with these close-by individuals.

  • A bingo game that expands empathy further by encouraging families to consider people who live in different communities around the country - and in different parts of the world - and how they might connect with them.

  • Fun (and practical) tools that make it easier for children to become upstanders rather than bystanders when they observe bullying or mistreatment.

  • A "Swapping Shoes" Journal for families to work on together that empowers them to take the perspective of others.


Building awareness of others - and imagining what they might be experiencing - is critical to developing empathy and compassion. Conversations are essential to developing that understanding. Here are a few of the questions we pose in the curriculum to spark those discussions.

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  • How would you know if a good friend needed help or a little kindness How would we know if a stranger was having a bad day and needed a little kindness? 

  • What are some safe and simple ways to show kindness to someone you don't know?

  • How do you think being kind and compassionate in our schools and neighborhoods can make a difference? How about in your city, across the country, or around the world?

  • How do you feel when someone shares kindness with you? How do you feel when you share kindness with someone else?


  • These books, featured in the Beyond Our Neighbors curriculum, encourage perspective taking and cultivate empathy.

    • The Invisible Boy by Tracy Ludwig, a charming story is about a boy who feels overlooked until a new friend welcomes him into his circle.  

    • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, an award-winning tale that (unlike most children's books) does not have a happy ending. When Chloe and her friends reject the new girl, Chloe learns a valuable lesson about accepting people. She also discovers the regret of missing an opportunity to share kindness. 

    • Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, a lyrical circle story that demonstrates the astonishing ripple effects of one act of kindness.

    • Lend a Hand by John Frank, a unique and elegant collection of poems explores the emotional and practical impacts of giving.  

    • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, a heart-warming book that introduces kids to the importance of welcoming new students with compassion and acceptance.

    • The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, a parable that shows how courage and forgiveness can lead to peace even in the most hostile situations. 


"Almost all kids are kind to somebody and have empathy for somebody. The real work is getting them to be kind and empathetic to people outside of their immediate circle of concern, including people of various races, nationalities, ages, and abilities. The effort is important as a kindness matter but also a justice matter. Kids develop a clear and sturdy sense of justice as they take the perspective of people who are different than them."

– Richard Weissbourd, co-director of Harvard's Making Caring Common project