Bring kindness into the classroom with CARES

Are you promoting kindness in the classroom? Read and learn about teaching ideas and activities using CARES to promote character education in the classroom.Besides academics, I strive to bring kindness into the classroom. We can raise the world's smartest children, but ultimately I want to ensure that each and every one of my students is a KIND individual. School is not simply looking at the academic component, but the social and emotional learning as well. The best advice that I've ever heard is, "the only thing you regret in life is not being kind," and I try to instill this idea into each of my students. 

I use Responsive Classroom at my school. If you are unfamiliar with this, Responsive Classroom is an approach that leads to an improved school climate, focusing on the relationship between academics and social-emotional learning. It strives to create a safe learning community where students feel a sense of both belonging and significance. If you would like to learn more about Responsive Classroom, check out the book in your school's professional library, or you can find it on Amazon (this is an Amazon Affiliate link).

A big part of Responsive Classroom (RC) is C.A.R.E.S. C.A.R.E.S. is a way to promote social and emotional learning in the classroom. I constantly tell my students to be respectful to others, themselves, and their materials/supplies. However, I think many students don't understand what respect really is. What makes up respect? It is just being nice? C.A.R.E.S. helps children understand ways to be respectful and breaks it down into easier terms. Kids understand the necessary social skills behind being a respectful student, classmate, friend, and peer. In this blog post, I explain the ways that I teach C.A.R.E.S. in the beginning of the year to my students to set them up for social and emotional success.

I create a C.A.R.E.S. board on my large bulletin board. I chose fadeless black paper from Lakeshore Learning with white letters to really make it pop. I staple what each letter stands for underneath the letter (cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control). Under each word I put ways that students can show that trait. For example, the bubbles under self-control say "We will take turns," 'we will stay in our own space," and "we will follow directions." Bubbles under empathy say "we will be kind" and " we will be accepting." This board is a fantastic resource after we learn what each letter stands for. If I notice that a student is not staying in their own space and is touching other kids, I ask them to remind me about self-control. They can always go up to the board and take a peek at how to show that trait. It's great to watch the kids using this board and interacting with it throughout the day!

To teach each letter in C.A.R.E.S., I use read-alouds, games, and anchor charts. For each character education lesson, we first read aloud a book having to do with the social skill. Then, we complete a four-square anchor chart that has the social skills written in the middle, then in one corner "is," "does," "sounds like," and "is not." It warms my heart hearing the ideas that the children come up with, especially when they start brainstorming how to practice these traits in the classroom, cafeteria, and during recess. Next we play a game or activity to demonstrate the social skill. To wrap up the social skill, our closing circle question is "How can I show responsibility today," or "how did I show empathy on the playground?" It reinforces the learning and puts it into a real-life context. (The book links are linked to Amazon. Glitter in Third is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising feeds by advertising and linking to Amazon.).

"Swimmy" is my favorite read aloud to talk about cooperation. It is very reminiscent of "just keeping swimming" and the end of Finding Nemo. So cute. The book is all about working together and showing teamwork! Afterward, we talk about the message in the book and create an anchor chart together.

For a cooperation activity, I buy a bunch of simple puzzles at the Dollar Tree (by simple, I mean a puzzle with about 9 pieces!). Students are put into groups, and one student is blindfolded. They all must cooperate to put the puzzle back together. It's funny to watch, and SO CUTE seeing the kids be so sweet and helpful with one another about where to put the pieces. Another activity that I have used in the past is with a hoola hoop. The kids must pass the hoola hoop all around the circle holding hands- and NEVER letting go of another student's hand! It is silly to watch, and we do it multiple times as we time how fast we can do it! This becomes a favorite morning meeting activity as well throughout the year.


Out of all the CARES, I think assertion is the one that kids never know what it means at first. Assertion is standing up to bullies, as well as learning how to be a leader. I like using the book "The Juicebox Bully" for this social skill. It is one of those books that seems a little cheesy to read, but elementary school kids take very well to it.

In the "Is not..." category, one girl said that assertion is not being "bossy." I am a big proponent of NO BOSSY! It is a term that seems sexist and really only used for women. When is the last time you heard that a man was bossy? I instantly correct them and tell them that instead of not being bossy, you just need to work especially hard on your "executive leadership skills." We talk about how being a leader means listening to others' ideas, delegating tasks, and looking out for others' best interests.

For the activity, I divided my students into four groups to show an example of assertion. Kids love making skits and acting them out! Students generally do a skit on how to kindly and respectfully give their opinions, or standing up to a bully. Since it's the beginning of the year and beautiful outside, we do our skits outside in our school's ampitheater. The rest of the students practice showing good and respectful listening skills for their peers' presentations. It's also a nice time to remind the kids how everyone is nervous when presenting, so we need to make sure not to laugh, roll our eyes, or make fun of others for their presentations.

After students act out their skits, we discuss each one. How did it show assertion? What choices did the students make to be assertive in both a kind and respectful way?

For our closing circle at the of the day, our daily question is how can we show assertion in school? 

This social skill is easiest for the kids to understand. All students have heard "responsibility" a million times in the past, so they tend to have a lot of input on this character trait. 

For our activity, I do a kinesthetic activity. I ask questions, and the kids have to make a movement depending on the answer. For example, "I forget to bring my agenda home, so I call a friend to ask what the homework is. Responsible or not responsible? If you think it is responsible, jump on one foot. If it is not responsible, rub your head." The kids love doing the movements. It helps make a lesson that some kids will roll their eyes about ("obviously we should be listening in class!") exciting and keeps them on pins and needles waiting to hear what the next movement will be.

I like to read a book about a bigger idea of responsibility, since kids are generally already familiar with what responsibility is. Kids know the idea of how to be responsible at home or in the classroom (making bed, pushing in chair, doing homework, etc.) However, for a more macro approach, I like reading the Great Kapok Tree. This book shows how a tree in the rainforest is responsible for the well-being of thousands of organisms. We get to bring up the bigger idea of being responsible for your long-term goals as well as the environment. The kids discuss how they know they need to be responsible and focused to go to college, or to become a certain profession. We also talk about the importance of recycling and keeping our planet healthy and strong. Responsibility is more than doing chores, it is doing our job as a globalized citizen.

This is always the first social skill that I start with. I think empathy is the best one to discuss first thing because I always have so many new students in my class that need a friend and someone to reach out to them. Discussing this character trait helps get the ball rolling so that kids will invite someone new to recess, ask questions to someone new to get to know them, say thank you to the lunch people, etc.

I usually describe empathy as "putting yourself in someone else's shoes." This is what makes the most sense to my kids. One of my favorite things a student ever said in my class was towards the end of the year. We had a counselor visit, and the counselor asked the class what empathy is. One little boy raised his hand and proudly stated, "putting yourself in someone else's shoes... WITHOUT taking your shoes off." Truer words have never been spoken!

For our activity, we play a game called Supreme Beings. This is a fun interpretation on rock, paper, scissors, but involving more kinesthetic movement. Here's how you play! All the kids start out as an egg. They squat down and walk around close to the ground. They find a person to challenge, then play rock, paper, scissors. The winner gets to evolve into a dinosaur. To be a dinosaur, the child holds out arms like an alligator and chomps around with bended knees. If they win again after a challenge, they get to be a Supreme Being, which means they get to walk around normally with folded arms. The students practice empathy this way because Supreme Beings can help the eggs win. The point of the game is for everyone to become a Supreme Being! It's a lot of fun to watch the kids working hard to help out all their classmates and peers.

Finally, we have self-control. This is also the lesson that I introduce our "take a break" chair and model how to use it. We talk about how the "take a break" chair is a place that we can go when we are losing our self-control and need to regain it. I demonstrate using it myself. We talk about how all of us sometimes need to cool off for a few minutes. It could be out of anger, sadness, or frustration. It does not mean that we are in trouble, and it does not mean that we did something wrong. All humans can feel overwhelmed, and it's okay to regain your self-control in a safe space.

For our anchor chart, we talk about how self-control is restraint and dedication.

My favorite book for this emotion is Lacy Walker, Nonstop Talker. It's about a little owl who loves to talk, talk, and talk. After she loses her voice for a day, she starts to realize how much she's missing out on. For example, she learns how funny that her best friend is, who she never previously listened to! My third-graders enjoy the story and it definitely is a home run for how important self-control can be. The main character comes full circle to realize how she is missing out on fun things in life because she is not controlling her voice.

To practice self-control, we play a game called Art Museum. One person is the Museum Curator. Everyone around the Curator is a statue. The statues must stay totally still. If the curator sees them move, they are out. There is one rule: If the curator says you're out, you're out! There is no arguing with the Curator, or else the game is over. It takes a lot of self-control to stay still when the kids want to giggle, as well as agree to not complain or whine if they get out but truly believe that they should still be in. Definitely a fun game, and another morning meeting favorite.

I believe that character education is absolutely essential to student learning. Bring CARES into your classroom to help students see what makes up a kind student. It allows students to identify specific ways that they can be kind to others.

Does your school use RC or C.A.R.E.S.? Do you have any other great book selections that you use in your classroom?

Are you promoting kindness in the classroom? Read and learn about teaching ideas and activities using CARES to promote character education in the classroom.


  1. Great post, thank you! I also love "My Mouth is a Volcano" and "What if Everybody Did That".

  2. So many great ideas! I'm working on empathy this month and like the idea of playing a game with the kids. You said the Supreme Being can helps the eggs, but you don't say how. Can you clarify?

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