Planting the seeds of empathy in a new generation

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Program helps young children identify the complexity of emotion
Wednesday May 18, 2011 — Kristian Partington

Imprints during the formative years of a child’s life create the individual who’ll grow to make a mark upon the world. Outside of parental influence, it’s often the teaching of an early childhood educator that makes those early, crucial impressions.

Planting seeds, as an analogy, risks being cliché but when it comes to children there are few words that can match how impressions are planted and how they grow within a child.

At Fair Haven Children’s Centre, one of the many great focal points of the childcare approach is the Seeds of Empathy program, which exposes children aged 3-5 to one of humankind’s most important emotions.

Fair Haven supervisor Chrisa Aiteur says the program is about showing children that everyone has a hard time now and again. An infant and parent who visit the children on a monthly basis is the centre of attention that illustrates the point.

They watch the baby grow and they learn about her emotions; why she cries or why she might be uncomfortable. They learn to see in each other those same emotions, and they learn not to be surprised by them.

“It gives to the children a sense that everybody cries,” Chrisa says. “It’s not a big deal.”

Through a regular reading program, the children are exposed to concepts of emotion so they’re prepared before the baby’s visit. When the baby comes, curiosity is piqued and the children are free to ask whatever is on their minds of the visiting parent.

“They absolutely love it,” Chrisa says, of the children’s reaction to the monthly visits.

“They get to ask their own questions and because they’ve already read the books . . . whatever comes to their mind is,” fair game.

Chrisa says one of the greatest benefits is how the program helps children understand the complexity of emotion that may come from a child with needs.

“We want children to be open to accepting other children with disabilities or being more open in general with all children,” she says.

As these seeds of empathy are planted each year at Fair Haven and other child care centres, the potential for growth of a more inclusive world germinate in the minds and hearts of a new generation.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact 800-294-0051, ext. 24, or e-mail kristian(at)axiomnews.ca.

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