BLOG

EmpathyLab blog

By EmpathyLab 15 Jun, 2017

Empathy Award character winners..St Hilda's kids voted for Miss Honey, Cinderella, Miss Honey, the BFG and Charlotte's Web

By EmpathyLab 13 Jun, 2017
Cathy Cassidy visited Sheffield’s Beck Primary School as part of Empathy Day, using characters in her new book  Love from Lexie and to inspire an understanding of empathy. 
By EmpathyLab 13 Jun, 2017
The wonderful Gemma Cairney visited ICS London and inspired students to make Empathy pledges as part of Empathy Day.  
By EmpathyLab 08 Jun, 2017

For us at EmpathyLab, empathy is a desperately needed force for understanding and connection in our divided world. We want to see an empathy revolution in homes, schools and communities, achieved by harnessing the power of stories to help us become more empathetic.  

 As our Lab name suggests, we’re experimenting with different approaches to achieve our mission, one of which is to test-run the first ever Empathy Day –on 13 June. We hope you’ll join in! 

 Empathy Day started as a small scale experiment in a handful of schools. But the idea has caught fire with authors, teachers and parents, convinced that the cultivation of empathy is a beacon of hope in our divided world. And excited that hard new scientific evidence proves that reading stories build real-life empathy

 So on June 13, please consider joining us to  #ReadforEmpathy

 We’re urging everyone to share their ideas for books which they have found to be empathy boosting. Please join in the #ReadForEmpathy campaign so that we can create a rich and varied bank of book recommendations. 

  If you live or work with children, look out for a new, free  Read for Empathy  Guide on 13 June, featuring 21 “must reads” books for 4-11 year olds. These are recommended by children, teachers and librarians and endorsed by  The Sunday Times  children’s book reviewer, Nicolette Jones. The Guide will be downloadable on the morning of June 13, along with top tips for parents about talking to children about books in ways which build their empathy skills. 

 Let’s change the world, story by story.


By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017

Empathy Lab

We are extremely excited to be one of only a handful of schools invited to trial a new project called Empathy Lab, which is all about how to develop children's empathy skills through books and stories. We will be taking part in different activities over the next few months, such as Empathy Detectives and Empathy Storykits, and then feeding back to the organisers in the summer. The plan is for the project to be launched in schools across the country in September.

Romy, Ethan and Gracie from Year 5 explain a little bit more about what empathy in books means to them.

Romy "Empathy is all about putting your self in other people's shoes, you have to think about how others might be feeling. For example, if a character is lonely in a book, it will make you think about what it feels like to be lonely."

Ethan "I've just read a book called How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson. There were loads of characters in the story that I felt empathy for, such as Willem, Sasha, Finn and Archie. Although Finn caused a lot of problems, we found out towards the end of the story why he behaved like he did. He was bad because of what happened to him, but he still had feelings."

Gracie "I've finished One Dog And His Boy where the main character is very lonely. When I'd finished the book, I thought a lot about it. One day when I was in the playground I saw a girl who looked really lonely, she was sitting down on her own, so I went and played with her. The book caused me to change my behaviour."

Ethan "I didn't really know what empathy was until we talked about it. It's weird but when I had it explained, I realised that I always try and show empathy to people. I now really look for empathy in books."

Romy "I find empathy in books really interesting, as I didn't used to think how people were feeling, I just used to read. Now I feel a lot more imaginative, it gives the story a lot more background about what might have happened and why."

Ethan "Thinking about it when I read makes me want to read more, because I get so much more involved in the story."

Gracie "I don't always think about what might happen next, but I always think about how a character might be feeling after a story ends. When I read Not As We Know It, I thought loads about the character of Jamie. His brother was probably going to die and I realised how hard it must have been for him to know that. It's never happened to me but I understood it through the story."

Ethan "There are loads of books about empathy. The Ranger's Apprentice has a character who keeps getting told that he isn't good enough. That must have been awful for him."

Romy "I now want to go back and read books like Matilda again, because I want to think more about the feelings of the characters in the story."

Gracie "When I read His Dark Materials, I empathised the most with Lyra's mother. That sounds strange because she's the bad character in the books, but she's only that way because she couldn't see her daughter. All she wanted to do was protect her."

Romy "I always empathise with Harry Potter. In the first book he has no friends and his aunt and uncle only care about his cousin. He must have found that really hard."

Ethan "There's lots of lonely and frightened people in the Harry Potter books. I think that's why so many people love them."

Romy "If other people, who maybe aren't so nice, read some of these books, maybe that would change the way that they acted. They would think more and maybe understand more. I think they should all read more. Perhaps schools should discuss empathy in books every week because it would help people so much."

Gracie "With our class, because we read a lot and always talk about books, we're all learning about empathy and getting on with each other every day. Should other classes choose to read books about empathy such as The Graveyard Book? I think they should."

Ethan "There are lots of books about making friends. Children need to know that it can be really hard if you're different in any way, like the boy in the wheelchair in How To Fly With Broken Wings. He just wanted to fit in with the others. He nearly died because of other people. But they didn't really want that to happen, they just didn't understand."

Gracie "If there's destruction all around you, you don't just see it, you feel it too. When the estate got smashed up I felt so sad because I know people who live in a world like that."

Romy "Can you enjoy books so much without understanding empathy? I don't think you can because it won't mean as much to you. It's just reading then. You don't just read the book, you have to stop and think and then go back to the reading. That's how things make sense to me."

Ethan "If you're younger you can still understand empathy. Stick Man, Hugless Douglas, The Day The Crayons Quit has got loads of perspectives and each colour is misunderstood. When orange and yellow argue about being the sun, that's how some people argue about silly things."

Gracie "I never thought I would care how Stick Man felt but now I really do. He's not just a stick, he has feelings."

Ethan "If you learn about empathy and read books that include it, it helps you get more from your reading. When I feel empathy in stories, I slow down, sometimes stop and think so much more. I turn the pages more slowly."

Gracie "Sometimes I empathise with more than one character in a book. It's really hard when characters aren't treated fairly."

Romy "When characters are separated from people they love, that always makes me think. I've had to move away from my friends and books make me feel better, like I'm not alone."

Ethan "Books that make you feel empathy can just change the way you are. They really actually change you."

By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Eve Ainsworth blogs on schools, empathy, and her debut novel 7 Days…

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Quite a simple concept when you think of it. But how much importance do we really put on this, especially when working with young people, the one group of individuals that probably need to understand the concept the most?

My understanding of empathy grew whilst working in a large secondary school. Sprawling and multicultural, this educational setting supported some of the most deprived families in the area. From my first day I was exposed to huge and fundamental issues of poverty, abuse and mental health difficulties that young people were experiencing first hand. It was devastating. But it was also a revelation.

In my role, I had to support teenagers experiencing issues both at home and within school. As a result, on a daily basis I would be dealing with bullying and the huge fall out this caused. Bullying was a big problem (as I’m convinced it is in most schools). It seeps into daily life and through the aid of social media, an individual can now no longer escape its grasp, even at home. My task was talk to both victims and bullies themselves to try and resolve and mediate. To begin with, my views were pretty clear. Bullies were bullies – what they were doing was wrong and there could be no excuse. I was to quickly change my mind. Within weeks I had met young people that were under enormous amounts of pressure, children that couldn’t cope, who were so angry and frustrated that their only answer was to lash out at others. These young people were dealing with things that they really shouldn’t be expected to. Some were young carers, some lived with violent siblings, some watched as their mum’s starved themselves in order to put money in the electric meter. They had worries bursting out of them and they were scared and unable to cope with their feelings.

I began to see that in the majority of cases I worked on, bullying had more than one victim and it was an empathic and supportive approach that was needed to help both parties. First I would speak to the victims of bullying and try to help them to understand that they were not at fault – that there was no stigma at being targeted and that actually victim was the wrong term to be using. They were just unfortunate to meet someone who was struggling to deal with their emotions appropriately.

Then I would speak to the bully, addressing their issues, talking about how they could cope better with their pressures, letting them understand the harm that they were causing to another and how to stop this.

Hopefully, I was able to show them a different way.

Through this work, I began to write my debut novel – 7 Days, which told the story of bullying from both the bully and the target. I hoped that this would enable people to empathise with both parties and that we could also open discussions around bullying and the reasons behind it. I have already had readers contact me to tell me how helpful they have found the book.

As individuals we need to develop more empathy towards others and in schools perhaps the need is even greater. In today’s society, teenagers have never had it so hard and they need not only our understanding, but also the skills to be able to develop their own understanding for others.

Eve Ainsworth photo SevenDays
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Librarians at Essex Libraries have been asking the question: what makes for a book that is great for supporting the development of empathy?

They looked at the attributes that a book needs to be empathy boosting and also which titles they’d recommend to help promote empathy in children and young people. Here they share with EmpathyLab the key factors they discovered make for great empathy-led books:

Good well rounded characters that the reader can believe in. Even in a fantasy situation the characters should have shades of black and white;
Even if they are doing terrible things it should be possible through the story to understand the character’s motivations. The reader should be thinking: “if I were that character in that situation I can see how I might react in that same way”;
Stories which challenge the readers’ perceptions are great for developing empathy for example The Boy in the Dress shows the central character wanting to wear dresses, interested in fashion and he is such a strong character that it just feels perfectly natural and the reader sides with him and against those who condemn – they are the negative figures in the book.
It should be child centred and accessible but treating readers with respect – not patronising and not over simplistic;
The writing should be subtle, conveying no judgement. The story should tell itself and should open emotional channels allowing the reader’s empathy to grow as they get to know the characters and as the story unfolds;
Feelings also need to be dealt with subtly. They should not be “over-described.” A reader will understand the feelings of the character if the character is allowed to demonstrate them through an integration of their own thoughts, their actions and how they interact with others;
The ending should not necessarily be completely resolved but satisfactory. There should be some kind of resolution or comfort.
Download the list of empathy boosting books for children and young people selected by Essex Libraries.

What factors do you think make for a good empathy boosting book? Tell us on Twitter #empathybooks

With thanks to Essex Libraries for the image of one of their Rhymetime sessions.
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
EmpathyLab recently went to the Patron of Reading conference and were delighted to meet the author Julia Suzuki. Here are her thoughts on why empathy skills are needed and necessary, how empathy informs her work and how she is going to be integrating empathy into her work with children and schools.

Our children — the future — have new challenges that we did not face. Schools are increasingly challenged with cultural integration. Now, not only must children (through their developmental years) learn about and accept themselves and learn to accept others of their kind, but they must also try to grasp understanding of the world at large, amidst a wave of political instability and intolerance. That is a huge task at hand, and vast empathy skills are required to succeed.

I was excited to hear about EmpathyLab at the Patron of Reading conference in February; I discovered more about the recent research which determines that reading is at the heart of developing empathy in children, and I jumped at the chance to be involved.

I am an author of a children’s series and a Patron of Reading, working within a secondary school, King Edward V1 in Lichfield (Midlands). Having struggled in my youth, as many children do, with the cruelty of other children, I felt driven to write novels that may help youngsters. The main character in my middle-grade series is an empath, a young dragon who is so sensitive to the feelings that he changes colour. Despite his initial alarm at being different, he soon discovers that this is a gift, and begins to use it to help others, promoting the idea that it is cool to be kind. My goal within this adventure setting was to help children understand that whilst they are different (within their interests and talents and origins) from one another, they are all of equal importance. And furthermore, to understand that, we all need each others unique skills to create a happy society.

I am keen to take the messages and ideas of EmpathyLab into the feeder primary schools of my own Patron school before September 2015. I would also like to take the EmpathyLab concepts into the other writing clubs I work with throughout the UK. It will be really interesting to gather feedback from teachers and the children using the EmpathyLab concepts, and to work with the organisation to develop new ones. I really like the thought of children developing a stronger insight into how it feels to walk in each others shoes.

My favourite empathy novel is ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne. It is a poignant story about a a nine-year-old German boy, Bruno, who meets the young Jew Schmuel (in a concentration camp) at the time of the holocaust. Schuel, like the other people there in the concentration camp, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. The two boys chat through the wire fence that separates them. Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel takes him from innocence to revelation as he develops an understanding of how Schmuel must feel, and feels the need to help, even at risk to himself.

EmpathyLab is sure to help our children to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and I believe that will make a world of difference.

Find our more about Julia and her work – The Land of Dragor series – and follow her on Twitter.

Find out about the Top Ten Messages from our Think In and our next steps.

Read the Think In crowd-sourced recommendations for books that helped you understand someone else better.

Join our network on LinkedIn – we’d love you to be part of the conversation.
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
This month, EmpathyLab was at Imagine, the Southbank’s brilliant children’s festival.

We experimented with events using stories as a springboard for families to share and explore feelings, and build children’s language for emotions. Our partners were the Poetry Library and Inclusive Minds.

Norman the Slug

The author/illustrator Sue Hendra led a session exploring the feelings of Norman the Slug, who longs to be a snail. She shared an hilarious account of the day she tried to write the story, and the disasters that befell her, including aliens eating her pencils. Along the way she named all her feelings that day – a powerful model of how to focus an author event on helping children understand their own and other people’s feelings.

We had really enthusiastic feedback from parents:

“It’s great to hear stories and discussion about feelings, and help kids feel more confident in expressing themselves. They see it’s important to talk about how they feel.”
Joanna Sholem (@BookJo): “I can’t wait to hear more about what you, Sue and your team thought of the day. The activities really engaged kids!”
Jo Byatt (@joannebyatt1) ‘This is my daughter Sienna’s artwork 🙂 (see below) we had a fab time thank you!’
Imagine Festival - Feelings Wall

After Sue’s stage session we moved to making tables and a Feelings Wall. Sue helped children make Norman the Slug, and name his different emotions as the story progressed – grumpy, confused, happy, weird, scared, sad…

One parent said: “It was interesting to explain what each feeling was through pictures; we explained two new words by drawing them.”
Sue Hendra said: “I had a fantastic time on Monday. Thank you so much for the opportunity to take part and to do something a little bit scary but very exciting.”
Alex Strick from Inclusive Minds said: “EmpathyLab is an exciting and inspired concept. People were absolutely raving about Sue afterwards – and the slugs were a stroke of genius for building on her lovely presentation. There was barely any white space left on the Feelings Wall by the end of the day.”
Rug rhymes

We experimented, through a great Poetry Library partnership, with a rug rhyme session in which the rhymes – like Row, Row Your Boat – needed parents/carers to be face to face. The session showed how families can use poems and rhymes as an extra tool for building strong, secure relationships. Afterwards, everyone involved talked about, wrote about and drew their feelings about enjoying rhymes together. These lovely pictures say it all!
More Posts
Share by: