Start Empathy poster by Sara BrodskyRecently, Elaine shared her perspectives about a new educational initiative focused on helping cultivate empathy among children. We had the pleasure of attending a luncheon hosted by the folks behind Start Empathy, and the discussion that took place during those two hours stirred up great emotion for me as both a parent and an educator.

The goals of the Start Empathy program are to help bring the concept of developing empathy to the forefront of conversation in education, to support schools’ current efforts at incorporating empathy development into the curriculum, and to equip others to follow this lead. They assert that helping children to develop empathy is as important as supporting their literacy or math development, and that learning to cooperate, to communicate, and to resolve conflict are worthy and necessary skills to prepare children to function in the world and in their future careers.

One point that was made during the discussion stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking about it from both my parent and teacher perspective since the meeting. It was stated that schools and educators could do well to ask themselves these questions: What do we make time for in our day and in our school? and What is our definition of success, and how do we measure it? It’s fairly easy to see what our educational system values based upon the allocation of time to subjects like science, math, and reading, and of course, through the subsequent time spent testing those skills in our students. My oldest child is a seventh grader, and some version of standardized test seems to be a part of his school experience much too frequently, in my opinion. Is there space for anything else?

We were shown a snippet of a ten-part series called “A Year at Mission Hill,” a look into a Boston area school that is following the concepts that Start Empathy advocates.  I loved seeing a school environment incorporate more emphasis on developing empathy without sacrificing the core subject instruction, and the teachers featured in the vignettes that we saw appeared to appreciate the effects of this approach in their classrooms. The videos will be periodically released on the website through June, and don’t miss the commentary on Start Empathy’s blog to follow each episode.

I’ve spent twelve school years in a preschool classroom surrounded by three, four, and five year olds. I’ve prepared classroom environments that expose children to experiences and materials to support their growing academic skills across all the expected areas of language and literacy, math, science, and social studies development. We provide opportunities for children to explore art materials and practice their developing gross and fine motor skills, too. However, as an early childhood educator, I see children’s personal and social development as the most important area to cultivate and support. Encouraging pro-social and empathetic behavior is tantamount to success in all the other areas. With initiatives like Start Empathy, I’m happy to see the recognition of this important value in educational levels beyond preschool.

To make your own connection, check out Start Empathy on Facebook.

**I was invited to take part in a conversation with the folks behind Start Empathy and other activists, educators, and interested parties, and was provided a delicious lunch in the process. All opinions stated here on the Start Empathy initiative are wholly my own. Images provided by Start Empathy.

Beyond parenting and teaching preschool, Dawn reviews books at 5 Minutes for Books and blogs as morninglightmama at my thoughts exactly.