By Gloria Jones Ellis, M.A. – Educational Therapist & Co-Founder of Lighthouse Homeschool Solutions
Our last blog article was about teaching children respect for all people, regardless of differences. Despite the current state of our world, I continue to believe that this is a valuable endeavor, and that we should go even further than teaching respect by also teaching empathy.
Feeling empathy goes beyond simply tolerating other’s differences because you respect them as fellow human beings with rights to make their own choices and follow their own paths.
Empathy is about understanding. Empathy is about compassion. Empathy guides the way that we treat others and not just the way that we see them.
From my early days of exploring the psychology of child development, which started with my first job, working in a daycare as a teenager, the role that empathy plays in solving our human problems has always captured my interest and attention. I’ve watched children treat each other with both unkindness and with care, and I wondered at the origins of these choices. Was it about the child’s upbringing, their personality, their education? Does the manner in which children treat one another depend more on the situation or on the characteristics of the individuals involved?
As a high school student, college student, and graduate student in psychology, I’ve felt that the lack of empathy was at the core of our social problems, and I have always believed that it is valuable to find ways we can teach empathy to young people. I believe that, when people feel empathy for other humans, regardless of their differences, our capacity for acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness is limitless, and we all benefit. Therefore, one of the key components of both my own teaching style and of my curriculum design is incorporating critical thinking tasks that promote empathy.
When designing the format of our Homeschool Solutions online learning program, my colleagues and I considered the development of empathy to be an important aspect. Thus, the content of our units incorporates resources that offer different perspectives on history, literature, faith, art, and other subjective human experiences.
Furthermore, when students are asked to express their understanding of the information that has been presented, our learning activities encourage them to not only summarize their learning and reflect on their personal response to the information, but also to imagine other perspectives on that information. The content exposes them to multiple perspectives, while the activities encourage students to consider their own feelings while also imagining their emotions and responses to the same information when standing in the shoes of another. As a routine exercise, this practice helps students identify and express their own feelings while also developing empathy for others. In this way, we hope to contribute something significant to the critical thinking of the students, and the families, who use our units as the basis of content learning in their homeschooling program.
Try it out! You and your children can follow the link below to listen to a Native American speaker share her feelings about the commercialization of native concepts and imagery. See how you can encourage your children to consider this perspective, and have them complete the learning activity submission at the bottom of the article to share their own personal reflections along with the possible perspectives of others.