Encouraging Empathy with Boxes for Katje

Usually around the holidays, we all start talking about thankfulness, and giving, and acts of service, and everything else.  And even though WE SAY we're going to keep it up all year, we sort of don't.  It slides.  Carla at Comprehension Connections runs a regular gig called Thematic Thursdays- and this week it's about Celebrating Gifts of the Heart.  Seemed like a perfect time for me to link up and share out some thoughts.

Empathy on a Global Scale

As an IBPYP school- we are meant to be teaching children empathy, and in particular, empathy on a global scale that would inspire an action project.  When I taught second grade- teaching empathy really came down to really hitting that idea of "caring hearts" and "kind deeds".  Now teaching fifth grade- all these kids are great at saying what IS caring, and what IS kind- but they aren't the greatest at DOING caring and kind to everyone.  And they are great kids- but they just don't "get" what empathy is.

Here is a video I show my kids to try to help them make a connection:
It is, indeed, a life insurance commercial.  But hot diggity! if it doesn't make me weep every.time.
The video is great for stopping at different places to make predictions of what will happen next, question why he does what he does, what will happen to him at the end.  And every time, they are surprised that the commercial says he gets nothing.  So this of course leads to a discussion to what he DOES receive, and what are things we are capable of to do the same?

Connecting to Literature

Some of my students have felt that acts of service are things adults are better at accomplishing.  And while at times, there is a necessity of course in the adults helping , kids are fantastic at serving others.
There is a book I love called Boxes for Katje:

Introducing Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming did an author talk at a school I worked at years ago, and I bought this book and have loved it ever since.  It's about boxes being sent to needy children in Europe after WWII- and Katje writes a thank-you note back to the young American girl in which both a friendship, and a miracle for her village, ensues.
Not only can you link this book to any lesson on writing a friendly letter, but it's also great for simple acts of service like creating blessing boxes to send to needy children, blessing meals to make for the local elderly and shut-ins, blessing bags for the homeless, shoebox projects, gifts for deployed soldiers, etc.  Once a child knows something simple that they can put in a box and only rely on an adult to mail it for them is all it takes- they can get very very excited, and also pretty creative, with how to help out others.
Sometimes I feel like we just wait for kids to get these ideas to give and then we'll roll with it.  But for a lot of kids, they will never get the idea or desire to do this sort of thing without experiencing it first.  As teachers, and parents, and caregivers- we really need to model the acts ourselves and invite the kids to participate in giving. 

Philanthropy in the Classroom

This is one particular catalog that gets sent to me this time of year, that I share with my students as an example of how some organizations help needy people around the world.  
But I also know that there are lots of different charities that do similar events where you pay to donate different types of livestock to villages to help them not only nutritionally, but also to set up an economic system where they can survive selling fresh eggs or goat's milk, for example.

My city kids are fascinated by the idea of giving someone a goat.  Mostly because they initially imagine the goat being mailed, and someone unwrapping one. Which is not what happens- but it is a charming visual.

I also know that there are plenty of people out there with arguments against participating in these programs for a myriad of reasons.  So, I simply say, educate yourself on both sides of the issue before doing anything like this.  I merely offer it at a jumping board for other ideas of how giving is not limited to a pair of socks and a tube of toothpaste (though your local homeless shelter would love donations of socks- as that is the one item most overlooked during the holiday season when people donate goods).

If we don't show our kids what it looks like to be charitable (because we are feeling empathy for someone) how will they know what it is?  We know kids learn better by doing - this is a great vocabulary lesson to follow up with some hands-on practice.

What do you do in your classroom to help promote empathy and acts of service with your students?

The Meek Moose would love to know. Also- be sure to check out all the other great link's on Carla's page by clicking the picture below to see other ideas.

1 comment

  1. Well said, Heather! I love the book recommendation and completely relate to how challenging it is for some kids to put words and ideas into action. At home, we try to get involved with service projects mainly through church, and at school, we do an angel tree and collect pennies and such for disaster relief (as things come up). Our guidance counselor does bucket fillers too. Certainly room to grow though. Thanks for the great ideas and for linking up with my blog this week.