Posts tagged ‘kindness’

March 24, 2014

The Importance of Kindness: Teaching Empathy Through Interaction with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_ Butterflies (3)

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James

Everyone wants to be liked.  There is an inherent human need to feel like an accepted member of a group. That is why many of us join clubs and professional organizations. We all feel our best when we think we are liked for who we are; it makes us happy. However, if the number of books on happiness research are any indication, we are all striving to be happier. This can be especially difficult for children, who are learning to navigate the social landscape as they go. Fortunately, there is new research from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University that suggests the best way for children to feel liked and accepted by their peers, to feel happy, is through practicing kindness.

A sense of empathy, or the ability to put oneself into the shoes of another, is the basis for kindness; if a person is empathetic, he is able to read a situation and put the needs of others above his own. Prompting people to engage in pro-social behaviors, such as helping others, increases feelings of well-being; conversely, people who are happy are much more likely to help others. In an experiment conducted in 19 classrooms in Vancouver, 9- to 11-year olds were instructed to perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of 4 weeks. A control group of students was asked to visit three places in the same time frame. Students in both groups showed improved feelings of well-being, but students who performed acts of kindness experienced greater peer acceptance than students from the control group. In essence, those students who were kinder and more empathetic to others were more popular and well-liked.

With the high incidence of bullying in schools, as well as spikes in depression and anxiety in students, this is an idea worth considering. Peer acceptance is an important goal, as it increases a sense of well-being. Empathy is not only an essential social skill, but an academic one; research shows that successful learners are not only knowledgeable, but also empathetic. Successful students not only exceed in the classroom, but in the community. The ability to be empathetic is found naturally in all of us, but requires nurturing to be properly developed. One way to teach these skills is through engagement with nature.

IMG_1235

Children often have a natural affinity with the natural world, especially animals.  Animals are a constant source of wonder for children, baby animals in particular; children naturally feel emotionally invested in animals. This fact is well-known in the medical community; there are a growing number of pet and equine therapy programs for children who are the victims of abuse or who have mental illness. Owning a pet, volunteering at an animal shelter or caring for a class pet are all ways that children can bond directly with animals. The bond that forms between child and animal has been shown to increase social competence and sense of well-being. As a child cares for and nurtures an animal, he or she develops a sense of empathy, which in turn promotes pro-social behaviors towards other people.

Another way to create a sense of empathy is through creating a sense of place. Whether it is a backyard or a local park, allowing children the time and freedom to explore, play in and care for a green space will create an affinity with the area. Research shows that those children with a sense of place are also more likely to turn their love of one place into a love for all of nature; this creates a sense of empathy with the natural world. Even caring for plants, for instance in the form of gardening, is beneficial. Spending time outside with trusted adults and watching them demonstrate their own care for nature helps to form a child’s sense of stewardship for the plants and animals within it.

Three

Among those plants and animals are people, which are surely also part of nature. As children learn to treat the world around them with respect and care, so they will also treat each other. Caring for each other is an important part of any community. The more able children are to act with kindness, the more successful and happy they will become. As James Boswell once wrote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of acts of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

Here are a few ways to teach empathy and kindness at home:
1. Create a secure attachment relationship between child and caregiver: This means showing empathy to your child and comforting them during times of distress. While it seems like simple parenting, about two-thirds of American children have a secure attachment to their caregiver; the one-third who do not have this security have decreased academic and social competency. Empathy comes from being empathized with.
2. Be a good example: Model the behavior that you would like them to have.
3. Help children to recognize their own feelings: Helping your child to learn what they are feeling and express it will help them to better communicate their feelings with others
4. Take care of others: Giving a child the opportunity to nurture a pet or a garden will help develop empathy.
5. Perform random acts of kindness: Performing acts of kindness as a family is a great way to build connections with the community and among yourselves.
6. Spend time in nature: Not only does time in nature boost cognitive skills, but it also allows children to develop a sense of place.

For more activities, check out the Humane Society’s The Empathy Connection.
Learn more about pro-social behavior in schools from Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, at This American Life.

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff and interns.

July 30, 2013

The Secret Garden: Using Fiction to Increase Empathy in Children

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

Phipps Science Education 25

“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.”
–  The Secret Garden

The spring show at Phipps this season is themed after The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story of two hurting children and the garden that heals them both. Mary Lennox, a troubled orphan, and Colin Craven, a boy so weak that he can hardly walk, learn compassion and joy through tending a secret garden. While this is a children’s story, it is still a riveting tale of transformation. It speaks of loss and loneliness, as well as love and hope. This book is a work of fiction, but it easy to get lost in its pages as if they were really happening before you. This is called emotional transportation, when readers become emotionally involved in a story; it is a convergent process, where all the reader’s mental systems become focused on events occurring in the narrative. People lose track of time, not realizing that they have been reading for hours. A recent research paper from Erasmus University Rotterdam explores this theory of emotional transportation and whether fiction has other effects on the human mind. Specifically, it asks the question: Does reading fiction influence empathy? The answer, like all good works of fiction, is complicated.

In two separate studies, researchers looked at fiction versus nonfiction and whether readers had an increase in empathy after reading; those readers who became emotionally transported into the story showed such an an increase. There are many theories on why this is so. Transported readers identify with characters in the story and even experience it as if the events in the narrative were happening to them. Fiction provides a safe place for readers to experience these emotions; the reader can allow himself to freely become emotionally involved  without actually transferring these feelings to real life. This emotional involvement causes readers to sympathize with the characters, consequently practicing empathy.

Another theory is that fictional narratives provoke personal insights, perhaps because the simulation of real life experiences in fiction can be associated with the processes that people use to navigate their daily lives. Readers learn about human psychology and social norms through character interaction. They also learn to predict social responses, inferring how characters are thinking, feeling and what they are intending to do. Additionally, fiction helps people to “make sense of the senseless”, helping them to put a face on human tragedy, and offers the chance to interact with characters from times and places that readers may not know in real life. All of this ultimately helps readers to understand the perspectives of others, increasing their empathic abilities.

Phipps Science Education 27

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to engage children in reading. Fiction helps them to understand the world that they are growing into; besides increasing their ability to empathize with others, it also helps them to better navigate the social waters and their interactions with peers. Children with good empathic skills are more pro-social and are kinder to others; this is linked to success in the workplace, school and social groups. Pro-social children are more well-liked and show greater creativity and productivity than their less empathetic peers. It doesn’t matter what kind of fiction a child is reading, as long as the narrative is so good that he becomes lost in the story. That is when fiction begins to work its magic.

While some children devour books unprompted, many others are reluctant readers. Some may be reluctant because of difficulty reading, disinterest, peer pressure, or any number of issues. Others may be avid readers during the elementary years and then taper off as they grow older. Whatever the reason, here are some ways to help all young readers gain the advantages of fiction reading in their development.

1. Figure out the root of reluctance: Until you know the reason for a child’s dislike of reading, it can be difficult to address the root of the problem. It may be that your child needs specialized reading services or more individualized reading instruction; it also could be that he just need to find a book that he actually likes.
2. Provide interesting reading material: If traditional novels are not appealing, try graphic novels, magazines, fantasy, or science fiction.
3. Model reading at home: Children with parents who love and value reading are much more likely to become avid readers.
4. Make reading fun: For young children, reading with voices, acting out scenes together and just generally being enthusiastic make reading more fun.
5. Read more: Analyzing a text can take all of the enjoyment out of it; while this can be unavoidable with school reading, try to encourage you child to read at home just for himself.
6. Promote good books: Share your favorite books and why you love them so much. Leave them lying around for your child to find.
7. Read outside: Reading outside is soothing and can help children better imagine what they are reading.

Reading fiction not only increases your child’s empathic skills, it also takes him to new worlds. Much like the Secret Garden transports the children in the novel away from their troubles, so too can falling into a book. “The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” Encouraging fiction reading will help your child grow in wonderful ways; find a good book today and read it together. Even better, pick one up just for yourself as well.

For more strategies to increase your child’s love of reading, check out this article by Reading is Fundamental. To help engage your students, check out edrethink’s article on reading in the classroom.

To learn more about the effects of fiction on empathy, read the original article on PLOSone.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

July 16, 2013

The Importance of Kindness: Teaching Empathy Through Interaction with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

Phipps Science Education_ Butterflies (3)

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James

Everyone wants to be liked.  There is an inherent human need to feel like an accepted member of a group. That is why many of us join clubs and professional organizations. We all feel our best when we think we are liked for who we are; it makes us happy. However, if the number of books on happiness research are any indication, we are all striving to be happier. This can be especially difficult for children, who are learning to navigate the social landscape as they go. Fortunately, there is new research from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University that suggests the best way for children to feel liked and accepted by their peers, to feel happy, is through practicing kindness.

A sense of empathy, or the ability to put oneself into the shoes of another, is the basis for kindness; if a person is empathetic, he is able to read a situation and put the needs of others above his own. Prompting people to engage in pro-social behaviors, such as helping others, increases feelings of well-being; conversely, people who are happy are much more likely to help others. In an experiment conducted in 19 classrooms in Vancouver, 9- to 11-year olds were instructed to perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of 4 weeks. A control group of students was asked to visit three places in the same time frame. Students in both groups showed improved feelings of well-being, but students who performed acts of kindness experienced greater peer acceptance than students from the control group. In essence, those students who were kinder and more empathetic to others were more popular and well-liked.

With the high incidence of bullying in schools, as well as spikes in depression and anxiety in students, this is an idea worth considering. Peer acceptance is an important goal, as it increases a sense of well-being. Empathy is not only an essential social skill, but an academic one; research shows that successful learners are not only knowledgeable, but also empathetic. Successful students not only exceed in the classroom, but in the community. The ability to be empathetic is found naturally in all of us, but requires nurturing to be properly developed. One way to teach these skills is through engagement with nature.

IMG_1235

Children often have a natural affinity with the natural world, especially animals.  Animals are a constant source of wonder for children, baby animals in particular; children naturally feel emotionally invested in animals. This fact is well-known in the medical community; there are a growing number of pet and equine therapy programs for children who are the victims of abuse or who have mental illness. Owning a pet, volunteering at an animal shelter or caring for a class pet are all ways that children can bond directly with animals. The bond that forms between child and animal has been shown to increase social competence and sense of well-being. As a child cares for and nurtures an animal, he or she develops a sense of empathy, which in turn promotes pro-social behaviors towards other people.

Another way to create a sense of empathy is through creating a sense of place. Whether it is a backyard or a local park, allowing children the time and freedom to explore, play in and care for a green space will create an affinity with the area. Research shows that those children with a sense of place are also more likely to turn their love of one place into a love for all of nature; this creates a sense of empathy with the natural world. Even caring for plants, for instance in the form of gardening, is beneficial. Spending time outside with trusted adults and watching them demonstrate their own care for nature helps to form a child’s sense of stewardship for the plants and animals within it.

Three

Among those plants and animals are people, which are surely also part of nature. As children learn to treat the world around them with respect and care, so they will also treat each other. Caring for each other is an important part of any community. The more able children are to act with kindness, the more successful and happy they will become. As James Boswell once wrote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of acts of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

Here are a few ways to teach empathy and kindness at home:
1. Create a secure attachment relationship between child and caregiver: This means showing empathy to your child and comforting them during times of distress. While it seems like simple parenting, about two-thirds of American children have a secure attachment to their caregiver; the one-third who do not have this security have decreased academic and social competency. Empathy comes from being empathized with.
2. Be a good example: Model the behavior that you would like them to have.
3. Help children to recognize their own feelings: Helping your child to learn what they are feeling and express it will help them to better communicate their feelings with others
4. Take care of others: Giving a child the opportunity to nurture a pet or a garden will help develop empathy.
5. Perform random acts of kindness: Performing acts of kindness as a family is a great way to build connections with the community and among yourselves.
6. Spend time in nature: Not only does time in nature boost cognitive skills, but it also allows children to develop a sense of place.

For more activities, check out the Humane Society’s The Empathy Connection.
Learn more about pro-social behavior in schools from Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, at This American Life.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry, Julia Petruska and Melissa Harding.

March 12, 2013

The Secret Garden: Using Fiction to Increase Empathy in Children

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education 25

“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.”
–  The Secret Garden

The spring show at Phipps this season is themed after The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story of two hurting children and the garden that heals them both. Mary Lennox, a troubled orphan, and Colin Craven, a boy so weak that he can hardly walk, learn compassion and joy through tending a secret garden. While this is a children’s story, it is still a riveting tale of transformation. It speaks of loss and loneliness, as well as love and hope. This book is a work of fiction, but it easy to get lost in its pages as if they were really happening before you. This is called emotional transportation, when readers become emotionally involved in a story; it is a convergent process, where all the reader’s mental systems become focused on events occurring in the narrative. People lose track of time, not realizing that they have been reading for hours. A recent research paper from Erasmus University Rotterdam explores this theory of emotional transportation and whether fiction has other effects on the human mind. Specifically, it asks the question: Does reading fiction influence empathy? The answer, like all good works of fiction, is complicated.

In two separate studies, researchers looked at fiction versus nonfiction and whether readers had an increase in empathy after reading; those readers who became emotionally transported into the story showed such an an increase. There are many theories on why this is so. Transported readers identify with characters in the story and even experience it as if the events in the narrative were happening to them. Fiction provides a safe place for readers to experience these emotions; the reader can allow himself to freely become emotionally involved  without actually transferring these feelings to real life. This emotional involvement causes readers to sympathize with the characters, consequently practicing empathy.

Another theory is that fictional narratives provoke personal insights, perhaps because the simulation of real life experiences in fiction can be associated with the processes that people use to navigate their daily lives. Readers learn about human psychology and social norms through character interaction. They also learn to predict social responses, inferring how characters are thinking, feeling and what they are intending to do. Additionally, fiction helps people to “make sense of the senseless”, helping them to put a face on human tragedy, and offers the chance to interact with characters from times and places that readers may not know in real life. All of this ultimately helps readers to understand the perspectives of others, increasing their empathic abilities.

Phipps Science Education 27

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to engage children in reading. Fiction helps them to understand the world that they are growing into; besides increasing their ability to empathize with others, it also helps them to better navigate the social waters and their interactions with peers. Children with good empathic skills are more pro-social and are kinder to others; this is linked to success in the workplace, school and social groups. Pro-social children are more well-liked and show greater creativity and productivity than their less empathetic peers. It doesn’t matter what kind of fiction a child is reading, as long as the narrative is so good that he becomes lost in the story. That is when fiction begins to work its magic.

While some children devour books unprompted, many others are reluctant readers. Some may be reluctant because of difficulty reading, disinterest, peer pressure, or any number of issues. Others may be avid readers during the elementary years and then taper off as they grow older. Whatever the reason, here are some ways to help all young readers gain the advantages of fiction reading in their development.

1. Figure out the root of reluctance: Until you know the reason for a child’s dislike of reading, it can be difficult to address the root of the problem. It may be that your child needs specialized reading services or more individualized reading instruction; it also could be that he just need to find a book that he actually likes.
2. Provide interesting reading material: If traditional novels are not appealing, try graphic novels, magazines, fantasy, or science fiction.
3. Model reading at home: Children with parents who love and value reading are much more likely to become avid readers.
4. Make reading fun: For young children, reading with voices, acting out scenes together and just generally being enthusiastic make reading more fun.
5. Read more: Analyzing a text can take all of the enjoyment out of it; while this can be unavoidable with school reading, try to encourage you child to read at home just for himself.
6. Promote good books: Share your favorite books and why you love them so much. Leave them lying around for your child to find.
7. Read outside: Reading outside is soothing and can help children better imagine what they are reading.

Reading fiction not only increases your child’s empathic skills, it also takes him to new worlds. Much like the Secret Garden transports the children in the novel away from their troubles, so too can falling into a book. “The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” Encouraging fiction reading will help your child grow in wonderful ways; find a good book today and read it together. Even better, pick one up just for yourself as well.

For more strategies to increase your child’s love of reading, check out this article by Reading is Fundamental. To help engage your students, check out edrethink’s article on reading in the classroom.

To learn more about the effects of fiction on empathy, read the original article on PLOSone.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

February 5, 2013

The Importance of Kindness: Teaching Empathy Through Interaction with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_ Butterflies (3)

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James

Everyone wants to be liked.  There is an inherent human need to feel like an accepted member of a group. That is why many of us join clubs and professional organizations. We all feel our best when we think we are liked for who we are; it makes us happy. However, if the number of books on happiness research are any indication, we are all striving to be happier. This can be especially difficult for children, who are learning to navigate the social landscape as they go. Fortunately, there is new research from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University that suggests the best way for children to feel liked and accepted by their peers, to feel happy, is through practicing kindness.

A sense of empathy, or the ability to put oneself into the shoes of another, is the basis for kindness; if a person is empathetic, he is able to read a situation and put the needs of others above his own. Prompting people to engage in pro-social behaviors, such as helping others, increases feelings of well-being; conversely, people who are happy are much more likely to help others. In an experiment conducted in 19 classrooms in Vancouver, 9- to 11-year olds were instructed to perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of 4 weeks. A control group of students was asked to visit three places in the same time frame. Students in both groups showed improved feelings of well-being, but students who performed acts of kindness experienced greater peer acceptance than students from the control group. In essence, those students who were kinder and more empathetic to others were more popular and well-liked.

With the high incidence of bullying in schools, as well as spikes in depression and anxiety in students, this is an idea worth considering. Peer acceptance is an important goal, as it increases a sense of well-being. Empathy is not only an essential social skill, but an academic one; research shows that successful learners are not only knowledgeable, but also empathetic. Successful students not only exceed in the classroom, but in the community. The ability to be empathetic is found naturally in all of us, but requires nurturing to be properly developed. One way to teach these skills is through engagement with nature.

IMG_1235

Children often have a natural affinity with the natural world, especially animals.  Animals are a constant source of wonder for children, baby animals in particular; children naturally feel emotionally invested in animals. This fact is well-known in the medical community; there are a growing number of pet and equine therapy programs for children who are the victims of abuse or who have mental illness. Owning a pet, volunteering at an animal shelter or caring for a class pet are all ways that children can bond directly with animals. The bond that forms between child and animal has been shown to increase social competence and sense of well-being. As a child cares for and nurtures an animal, he or she develops a sense of empathy, which in turn promotes pro-social behaviors towards other people.

Another way to create a sense of empathy is through creating a sense of place. Whether it is a backyard or a local park, allowing children the time and freedom to explore, play in and care for a green space will create an affinity with the area. Research shows that those children with a sense of place are also more likely to turn their love of one place into a love for all of nature; this creates a sense of empathy with the natural world. Even caring for plants, for instance in the form of gardening, is beneficial. Spending time outside with trusted adults and watching them demonstrate their own care for nature helps to form a child’s sense of stewardship for the plants and animals within it.

Three

Among those plants and animals are people, which are surely also part of nature. As children learn to treat the world around them with respect and care, so they will also treat each other. Caring for each other is an important part of any community. The more able children are to act with kindness, the more successful and happy they will become. As James Boswell once wrote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of acts of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

Here are a few ways to teach empathy and kindness at home:
1. Create a secure attachment relationship between child and caregiver: This means showing empathy to your child and comforting them during times of distress. While it seems like simple parenting, about two-thirds of American children have a secure attachment to their caregiver; the one-third who do not have this security have decreased academic and social competency. Empathy comes from being empathized with.
2. Be a good example: Model the behavior that you would like them to have.
3. Help children to recognize their own feelings: Helping your child to learn what they are feeling and express it will help them to better communicate their feelings with others
4. Take care of others: Giving a child the opportunity to nurture a pet or a garden will help develop empathy.
5. Perform random acts of kindness: Performing acts of kindness as a family is a great way to build connections with the community and among yourselves.
6. Spend time in nature: Not only does time in nature boost cognitive skills, but it also allows children to develop a sense of place.

For more activities, check out the Humane Society’s The Empathy Connection.
Learn more about pro-social behavior in schools from Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, at This American Life.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry, Julia Petruska and Melissa Harding.

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