A Project to Teach Empathy and Patience in Young Children
Our educators noticed an increase in behaviours which we felt were indicators of bullying. We heard a lot of teasing about differences and seeing a general lack of respect for each other. There were leaders and followers in the group and the educators needed to find a process which would help the children to understand how they were impacting each other’s lives. Through discussions regarding the “Year of the Water Dragon”, with a focus on empathy and patience, we decided there was enough interest to proceed with the Dragon Project. We observed the children role playing a baby dragon hatching out of its egg and that is how Sparkle was born.
The challenge was to build a dragon which all of the children would love and respect; could teach and support them in a positive way; and who could be seen as a friend rather than something to slay. The children decided everything, including how big she would be, whether she would have wings, how she stood, what colour she would be, what her eyes would be made of, even whether her toe nails would be painted. They built the dragon with a visible heart in her chest that would represent her love. Her eyes were placed so that she was looking down to them. All decisions regarding her would be recorded, discussed and voted on. They learned to work as a team, to listen to each other and to respect each other’s thoughts.
It took a group of 16 children, ages 3 ½ to 5 ½, five months to bring Sparkle to life. Her role is to teach empathy and patience but she taught so much more; self-confidence, self-regulation and the knowl
edge that all of us are different, but also the same. Sparkle has had an impact on how the children and the adults treat others by being respectful, showing empathy and patience, and always remembering her motto “It’s Great to Be You”.
The children experienced many special moments because of Sparkle. Here are two stories:
I – One of our children had a large birth mark on his chest which he had always been self-conscious about. Other children noticed this and decided to give the dragon a birth mark of her own, one that they would call a “Power Mark”. The children decided to place a “Power Mark” on the dragon’s forehead and one on her wing. The child with the birth mark was so proud that he had his very own “Power Mark”.
II – On one particular morning, some children started to tease another child about what he was wearing. The educators responded by dressing a little silly themselves and putting a funny hat on Sparkle. At first, the children all laughed, but then we had a discussion and the children realized the impact, which in this case, was not a happy one. They decided to have a dress up silly day all together to reinforce the idea of “It’s Great to Be You” no matter what you are wearing.
The children attached a simple plastic bag to Sparkle’s heart which was full of treasures brought from home. The children can freely take a treasure out of the dragon’s heart bag, and carry it throughout the day for support.
Joanne Saunders, RECE
Acorn Learning Centr