Social Work // Teaching Empathy

Empathy is a fundamental component of teaching kids how to be caring and compassionate individuals. It is an elusive characteristic that is difficult to define and a challenge for young minds to comprehend. Empathy drives connection and makes it possible for children to act on the behalf of others. Teaching empathy begins with illuminating shared emotional experiences. It is hard to feel detached or apathetic when you get to know the other person.   

Building a Web of Connections
The Habit of Character group is a club for students in grades 1-3rd that are new to Detroit prep. Each week, the students meet and do a fun activity that is connected to a Habit of Character. During week that we learned about the HOC of Compassion, the group did an activity called Building a Web of Connections. This activity is easy to follow and implement. The main idea of the Building a Web of Connections is for students to exercise empathetic communication through recognizing shared experiences.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.18.10 PM.png
  1. The students begin by standing in a circle.

  2. Students are asked to share a challenge they had that day. It could be a challenge on an assignment, or with a peer.

  3. At the end of sharing, students are asked to think about someone that had a similar experience as them (someone that is not a close friend).  

  4. The leader starts the ball of string by holding one end in their hand, and passing the ball to a person that shared an experience that resonates with their own.

  5. When the student has passed the string, they also share a kind or encouraging comment to the receiver. (Ex: One student shares that they had a difficult time today because hey felt homesick...the kind word could be “we are so happy to have you here at school”)

  6. When each student gets a piece of string, the group is asked to look down at the web they created. The student’s are asked “how does it feel to hear that someone else felt a similar way as you did? Did you learn something about someone that you didn't know? How did it feel to say something kind? How did it feel to hear a kind words?

Students are asked to look at their creation, and see how their end of the string connects to others in the circle. Students can see the interconnectedness of their stories, and experience giving encouragement and kindness through the purview is a shared emotional experience.