I believe that humans, from an extremely young age, have an extraordinary capacity to be empathetic. I can remember my own children, as tiny infants, being upset when I was upset or calm when I was calm. Of course, the other side of that coin is that we can be very selfish creatures. My preschooler will snatch a toy he has never seen before out of the hands of another person and simply declare, “this is mine!” Having spent more than a few Sunday mornings with him and his peers in the church nursery I’ve seen that that’s pretty much a common trait among the preschool set. So, when I was asked if I would like to receive a copy of The Empathy Way books by Anne Wessels Paris and Marian Brickner I happily agreed to take a look. I love the idea of introducing this powerful word and concept at a young age and incorporating ways to encourage little ones to examine the situations they find themselves in from the point of view of the others involved.
The Empathy Way books tell stories of the every day interactions of the bonobo apes at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. The full page photographs are gorgeous! They show the apes in every day situations that any child would be able to relate to: They are playing, dealing with illness, frightened or meeting new friends.
What do you do when you encounter someone who seems scary because they look different? How can understanding a bully help you deal with the way the treat you? How can empathy help us make our friends feel better in hard times?
The book series comes with a teacher’s guide and would be a great addition to any classroom or homeschool program. There are discussion questions and some simple crafts to help children remember to follow “The Empathy Way.”
The material says that it’s appropriate for grades k-3. I thought it was great but I would suggest that it’s more appropriate for the younger end of that spectrum. T-Rex, at age 3 1/2 thought these books were wonderful. He caught on right away and, pointing at the pictures asking, “is she scared? Is he sick? Are they laughing? They think it’s funny?” The comments he made as we read showed that he understood the concept of empathy, even though he had never heard the word before being reading these books. The language is simple, but never simplistic.
If you have a young child at home or if you are a teacher who works with this age group I would strongly encourage you to visit The Empathy Way website. The books are available there as are some really great videos and resources.
In a society where too many news stories are about children and adults who have been hurt lashing out at the world that hurt them we could all use a little more empathy!
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