Cathy Cassidy visits Beck School Sheffield to celebrate Empathy Day

  • By EmpathyLab
  • 13 Jun, 2017

Inspiring an understanding of Empathy using book characters

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. 

EmpathyLab blog

By EmpathyLab 10 Oct, 2017

Transcript of Miranda McKearney, OBE (EmpathyLab Founder) and Professor Robin Banerjee's (Psychology Department, University of  Sussex ) speech given at The Bookseller Children's Conference (London, 26 September 2017)

Robin Banerjee:

I want to start our session with my perspective on why I think the topic of empathy deserves your attention, perhaps now more than ever.

As a developmental psychologist, I have a primary interest in the well-being and mental health of children and young people. Unfortunately, recent news stories highlight challenges in this area right through the lifespan, from concerns about “ UK youth suffering low mental wellbeing ”, to a general sense that “ universities need to put student mental health first ”, right through to worries in the workplace, where one recent report suggests that “ one in three sick notes are for mental health problems ”.

There is good evidence that a lot of the problems might begin in childhood. And it’s not hard to see why. Children can experience a multitude of stresses, from family conflicts to stresses about school work and the testing culture . And one area in which I have done a lot of research relates to the child’s peer group . Problems such as bullying – not just physical but also relational (e.g., excluding others, or spreading rumours) – can have major impacts on children’s lives. And I think we are all more aware now of how social media has the potential to exacerbate these problems.

Coupled with these concerns are a whole range of global issues that children might encounter: things like the effects of climate change , highly polarised debates about immigration and racism , worldwide terrorism , and homelessness on local streets.

Now, I promise I’m not trying to put a huge downer on this wonderful event!   But I want to illustrate why I think the need for empathy is so important – perhaps especially now. In fact, many psychologists and educators are flagging the importance of so-called ‘soft skills’ – things like emotional literacy , and character and values (such as resilience, grit, but also care and compassion).  There are lots of terms out there and I’m not going to get into the nuances of all of these, but I want to point out that one key construct binding them all together is EMPATHY .   If you are interested in how you can foster children’s well-being and resilience, then there is good evidence that empathy should be a key priority.

This is not about encouraging children to be completely wrapped up in other people’s feelings, becoming biased and ‘emotional’ instead of rational and objective.  In fact, empathy is pretty complex. Of course, there is an important emotional dimension to it, but we also need to think about how children are actually behaving , how they are thinking (cognition) , what goals are driving them (motivation) , and what their social relationships are like.

Many researchers – using cutting edge research techniques from neuroscience, as well as experiments, surveys, and observational studies – now distinguish between at least three major aspects of empathy:

 

1.    one part of this is how you react emotionally to other people’s displays of emotions – such as fear, or distress, or indeed positive emotions such as happiness and joy.

 

2.    Another part is the accuracy and depth of your cognitive insight into other people’s thoughts and feelings – how are other people (who might be quite different to you) likely to see and experience the world?

 

3.    And third – quite crucial as it turns out – is what you actually do with those emotional and cognitive reactions: things like comforting, helping, and supporting others. The translation of empathic thoughts and feelings into behaviour requires a motivation of care and compassion within one’s relationships .

I hope it’s clear that an imbalance could be seriously problematic. If you constantly feel someone else’s distress but have very limited understanding, you would probably be a nervous wreck! But if you understand other people’s thoughts and feelings well but you behave in a callous way because you don’t feel the distress or you simply don’t care , you could be a manipulative sociopath! But put all three together, and you’ll find that something rather special can happen.

And this is where I hand over to Miranda to tell you more about EmpathyLab and why we think all of you people here have a role to play!

Miranda McKearney:

Thanks, Robin. We’re not born with a fixed empathy quotient. Our brains are plastic and 98% of us are capable of improving our empathy skills, and excitingly, scientists are now able to show that reading is a potent tool.

Research studies are showing that the brain reacts to fictional worlds as if they were real, and this helps us practice our social skills. As we read, our brains are tricked into thinking we’re genuinely part of the story. So the empathic emotions we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people.

For me, that’s explosive stuff, and with four fellow founders, I have started a new organisation called EmpathyLab. We want to see an empathy revolution, and to do it through literature.

I suggest it’s explosive stuff for the book world too, because if books are now proven to be empathy building, it gives parents and teachers an added purchasing motivation.

Worldwide, there are no programmes which systematically harness the power of stories to build children’s empathy skills. That’s EmpathyLab’s focus.  We support 4-11 year olds, and the Lab bit of our name is deliberate – we’re experimenting, and so far have piloted: a schools programme, new kinds of festival events, and a national Empathy Day. After two years of testing it’s clear we’re on to something big.

On our website you’ll find the impact report of our work with the leadership teams in 14 pioneer primary schools. Together, we’re testing  an Empathy Explorers programme which simultaneously builds children’s empathy and literacy skills, and social activism.

One of the schools is in Great Yarmouth, a town with tricky community issues around attitudes to the migrant population. The school  focused on empathy,  with refugee themed books as their class readers. Local war refugees and Amnesty visited and Year 6 taught empathy lessons right down the school. Author Elizabeth Laird made an electrifying Empathy Day visit, talking about Welcome to Nowhere which she researched in a Syrian refugee camp, resulting in wildly fired up children organised a fundraising sleep out. Troy said: “this was some of my favorite work that we’ve ever done. We’re learning about the real world and we are all part of it. Like, everyone, not just us and the people we know”.

 As soon as EmpathyLab started we had the backing of some great children’s authors, and this April we ran a training day for 30 of them. We were blown away by how hungry they were to use an empathy focus to offer more meaningful events, and they saw new opportunities to position their work against wellbeing agendas. And authors say how much they want to do something, horrified by the way our society feels so divided, and the 89% rise in hate crimes in schools.

In June we piloted a new Empathy Day. We were over the moon when the #ReadForEmpathy hashtag  started trending on Twitter– there was an outpouring of people welcoming the idea of using books to help us get out of our echo chambers .

By Christmas we’ll be ready to go with a 3 year plan, and we hope that the book world will be major partners. By 2020 we aim to: roll out a schools programme; establish an annual Empathy Day; build a band of 60 trained Empathy Authors, and launch Empathy Explorers as a national children’s programme.  

And we so hope you’ll get involved! There are real commercial opportunities and surely there’s a massive moral imperative. None of us can stand idly by while hate crimes rise - we need that empathy revolution! Your books can help develop children who challenge prejudice, build community and embrace diversity.

If you’re a publisher, do get in touch to talk through these opportunities:

-      Put your books forward for a new Read For Empathy Guide we are developing with Peters Library Service

-      Help us identify the right writers to join that band of 60 trained Empathy Authors

-      Include us in your author tour planning

-      For Empathy Day on 12 June next year…inspire your authors to get involved, join in the social media campaign and maybe become a workplace pilot

-      Support us as an organisation: we offer a powerful Corporate Social Responsibility focus

-       

And I’ll finish with ten year old Layla, whose mind-set has been completely changed by her school’s empathy work - "I thought that refugees were different to us and now I don't."  I think that says it all. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By EmpathyLab 25 Jul, 2017

  Since Empathy Day on 13 June, we’ve been hearing from librarians who made things happen in communities, from empathy themed class visits to creative events based on a single book. They welcomed the chance to focus on how reading can help children build vital empathy skills – as one enthusiast tweeted: “libraries are Empathy Warehouses!”.

 19 library services and two Schools Library Services joined in with Empathy Day, from North Tyneside to Devon. This was far more than we were expecting, and we’re thrilled by their creative response and the interest they generated in their communities.

Sheffield Libraries involved Chatterbooks reading group children from all over the city in a creative writing session led by author Nik Perring. Librarian Tina Barber reports: “children’s writing was based on empathy themed books that they’d read. We asked them to put themselves in a book character’s shoes and write a letter advising them how to make their situation more bearable. This produced some profound and moving pieces of work”. Nik Perring says “ This was something different. One of the most important things we can do as people is to think about what other people might be feeling, and putting ourselves in character’s shoes made for some really interesting discussion…we had characters with OCD, autism – we had bullying – all sorts. I met brilliant and talented and caring young people who made brilliant art and stories”.

St Helens libraries ran a series of very well received empathy class visits for targeted schools, exploring feelings and characters’ perspectives through a shared book. Younger children focused on David Litchfield’s  The Bear and the Piano , and older children took a fresh look at what Goldilocks did before she broke into the bears’ house. Library staff created displays of books using the theme “walk in their shoes”. Kathryn Boothroyd, Service Development Manager, says: “libraries have a very important role in highlighting the vital part reading plays in supporting empathy skills, and help schools find suitable contemporary fiction for their pupils”

North Tyneside library staff made wordles based on their favourite children’s books. These were tweeted, posted on the library facebook page and used in an Empathy Day display.  “Creating wordles made people think about the emotional impact of their favourite books, reinforcing the power of literature to enhance self awareness and a greater understanding and connection to the lives of others”.

Totton library in Hampshire worked with a local school, Netley Marsh Infants, supporting children’s work on making Empathy Awards to book characters showing exceptional empathy. The schools’ Executive Headteacher stationed herself at the library to encourage families to make several library visits in the run up to Empathy Day. The children loved it:  We can’t wait to find out which book has won the award. I am going to go to the library next time to get my book chosen.”  (Y2 boy).  

Essex Libraries piloted an empathy-focused event for young library users in Chelmsford, basing it on Oliver Jeffers’ superb book,  The Day The Crayons Quit . Children aged 4-7 were very thoughtful in exploring the squabbling crayons’ different viewpoints, and learnt new words for feelings. This was a very different kind of story event, involving explicit exploration of emotions and different perspectives. 

A big thank you to the library services and the many, many individual librarians who joined in Empathy Day. In creating libraries’ plans, we were delighted to be supported by the Society of Chief Librarians. We’re now talking to them and the participating library services about developing an exciting library for future Empathy Days.

By EmpathyLab 04 Jul, 2017

A huge thank you to everyone who got involved on Empathy Day, June 13. There is clearly huge public interest in the cultivation of empathy as a beacon of hope in our divided world. 

As our name suggests, we’re experimenting with new ways to build children’s empathy skills, and Empathy Day was our first national activity. It started as a small scale activity in a handful of schools, but the idea caught fire, and we worked with authors, publishers and libraries to trial a wider model. 

To our delight and astonishment, by 11am #EmpathyDay was trending on twitter, and continued to do so throughout the day, reaching over 5 million twitter accounts on Empathy Day alone. 

Based on the hard new scientific evidence showing that reading stories builds real-life empathy, we ran a social media  #ReadforEmpathy  campaign encouraging everyone to share empathy-boosting reading experiences and recommendations. This had a similarly high reach of 1.6 million twitter users, with an outpouring of recommendations for books which people said were empathy-boosting. 

And beyond the sheer volume of activity around #EmpathyDay and #ReadforEmpathy there wwas rich input around both hashtags from parents, schools, academics, charities and social justice activists.  

We’re now sifting through all of the insight from the day to understand what it was that captured so many people’s imaginations. We’ll share this, and the activity in different settings, in future posts.  

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
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EmpathyLab blog

By EmpathyLab 10 Oct, 2017

Transcript of Miranda McKearney, OBE (EmpathyLab Founder) and Professor Robin Banerjee's (Psychology Department, University of  Sussex ) speech given at The Bookseller Children's Conference (London, 26 September 2017)

Robin Banerjee:

I want to start our session with my perspective on why I think the topic of empathy deserves your attention, perhaps now more than ever.

As a developmental psychologist, I have a primary interest in the well-being and mental health of children and young people. Unfortunately, recent news stories highlight challenges in this area right through the lifespan, from concerns about “ UK youth suffering low mental wellbeing ”, to a general sense that “ universities need to put student mental health first ”, right through to worries in the workplace, where one recent report suggests that “ one in three sick notes are for mental health problems ”.

There is good evidence that a lot of the problems might begin in childhood. And it’s not hard to see why. Children can experience a multitude of stresses, from family conflicts to stresses about school work and the testing culture . And one area in which I have done a lot of research relates to the child’s peer group . Problems such as bullying – not just physical but also relational (e.g., excluding others, or spreading rumours) – can have major impacts on children’s lives. And I think we are all more aware now of how social media has the potential to exacerbate these problems.

Coupled with these concerns are a whole range of global issues that children might encounter: things like the effects of climate change , highly polarised debates about immigration and racism , worldwide terrorism , and homelessness on local streets.

Now, I promise I’m not trying to put a huge downer on this wonderful event!   But I want to illustrate why I think the need for empathy is so important – perhaps especially now. In fact, many psychologists and educators are flagging the importance of so-called ‘soft skills’ – things like emotional literacy , and character and values (such as resilience, grit, but also care and compassion).  There are lots of terms out there and I’m not going to get into the nuances of all of these, but I want to point out that one key construct binding them all together is EMPATHY .   If you are interested in how you can foster children’s well-being and resilience, then there is good evidence that empathy should be a key priority.

This is not about encouraging children to be completely wrapped up in other people’s feelings, becoming biased and ‘emotional’ instead of rational and objective.  In fact, empathy is pretty complex. Of course, there is an important emotional dimension to it, but we also need to think about how children are actually behaving , how they are thinking (cognition) , what goals are driving them (motivation) , and what their social relationships are like.

Many researchers – using cutting edge research techniques from neuroscience, as well as experiments, surveys, and observational studies – now distinguish between at least three major aspects of empathy:

 

1.    one part of this is how you react emotionally to other people’s displays of emotions – such as fear, or distress, or indeed positive emotions such as happiness and joy.

 

2.    Another part is the accuracy and depth of your cognitive insight into other people’s thoughts and feelings – how are other people (who might be quite different to you) likely to see and experience the world?

 

3.    And third – quite crucial as it turns out – is what you actually do with those emotional and cognitive reactions: things like comforting, helping, and supporting others. The translation of empathic thoughts and feelings into behaviour requires a motivation of care and compassion within one’s relationships .

I hope it’s clear that an imbalance could be seriously problematic. If you constantly feel someone else’s distress but have very limited understanding, you would probably be a nervous wreck! But if you understand other people’s thoughts and feelings well but you behave in a callous way because you don’t feel the distress or you simply don’t care , you could be a manipulative sociopath! But put all three together, and you’ll find that something rather special can happen.

And this is where I hand over to Miranda to tell you more about EmpathyLab and why we think all of you people here have a role to play!

Miranda McKearney:

Thanks, Robin. We’re not born with a fixed empathy quotient. Our brains are plastic and 98% of us are capable of improving our empathy skills, and excitingly, scientists are now able to show that reading is a potent tool.

Research studies are showing that the brain reacts to fictional worlds as if they were real, and this helps us practice our social skills. As we read, our brains are tricked into thinking we’re genuinely part of the story. So the empathic emotions we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people.

For me, that’s explosive stuff, and with four fellow founders, I have started a new organisation called EmpathyLab. We want to see an empathy revolution, and to do it through literature.

I suggest it’s explosive stuff for the book world too, because if books are now proven to be empathy building, it gives parents and teachers an added purchasing motivation.

Worldwide, there are no programmes which systematically harness the power of stories to build children’s empathy skills. That’s EmpathyLab’s focus.  We support 4-11 year olds, and the Lab bit of our name is deliberate – we’re experimenting, and so far have piloted: a schools programme, new kinds of festival events, and a national Empathy Day. After two years of testing it’s clear we’re on to something big.

On our website you’ll find the impact report of our work with the leadership teams in 14 pioneer primary schools. Together, we’re testing  an Empathy Explorers programme which simultaneously builds children’s empathy and literacy skills, and social activism.

One of the schools is in Great Yarmouth, a town with tricky community issues around attitudes to the migrant population. The school  focused on empathy,  with refugee themed books as their class readers. Local war refugees and Amnesty visited and Year 6 taught empathy lessons right down the school. Author Elizabeth Laird made an electrifying Empathy Day visit, talking about Welcome to Nowhere which she researched in a Syrian refugee camp, resulting in wildly fired up children organised a fundraising sleep out. Troy said: “this was some of my favorite work that we’ve ever done. We’re learning about the real world and we are all part of it. Like, everyone, not just us and the people we know”.

 As soon as EmpathyLab started we had the backing of some great children’s authors, and this April we ran a training day for 30 of them. We were blown away by how hungry they were to use an empathy focus to offer more meaningful events, and they saw new opportunities to position their work against wellbeing agendas. And authors say how much they want to do something, horrified by the way our society feels so divided, and the 89% rise in hate crimes in schools.

In June we piloted a new Empathy Day. We were over the moon when the #ReadForEmpathy hashtag  started trending on Twitter– there was an outpouring of people welcoming the idea of using books to help us get out of our echo chambers .

By Christmas we’ll be ready to go with a 3 year plan, and we hope that the book world will be major partners. By 2020 we aim to: roll out a schools programme; establish an annual Empathy Day; build a band of 60 trained Empathy Authors, and launch Empathy Explorers as a national children’s programme.  

And we so hope you’ll get involved! There are real commercial opportunities and surely there’s a massive moral imperative. None of us can stand idly by while hate crimes rise - we need that empathy revolution! Your books can help develop children who challenge prejudice, build community and embrace diversity.

If you’re a publisher, do get in touch to talk through these opportunities:

-      Put your books forward for a new Read For Empathy Guide we are developing with Peters Library Service

-      Help us identify the right writers to join that band of 60 trained Empathy Authors

-      Include us in your author tour planning

-      For Empathy Day on 12 June next year…inspire your authors to get involved, join in the social media campaign and maybe become a workplace pilot

-      Support us as an organisation: we offer a powerful Corporate Social Responsibility focus

-       

And I’ll finish with ten year old Layla, whose mind-set has been completely changed by her school’s empathy work - "I thought that refugees were different to us and now I don't."  I think that says it all. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By EmpathyLab 25 Jul, 2017

  Since Empathy Day on 13 June, we’ve been hearing from librarians who made things happen in communities, from empathy themed class visits to creative events based on a single book. They welcomed the chance to focus on how reading can help children build vital empathy skills – as one enthusiast tweeted: “libraries are Empathy Warehouses!”.

 19 library services and two Schools Library Services joined in with Empathy Day, from North Tyneside to Devon. This was far more than we were expecting, and we’re thrilled by their creative response and the interest they generated in their communities.

Sheffield Libraries involved Chatterbooks reading group children from all over the city in a creative writing session led by author Nik Perring. Librarian Tina Barber reports: “children’s writing was based on empathy themed books that they’d read. We asked them to put themselves in a book character’s shoes and write a letter advising them how to make their situation more bearable. This produced some profound and moving pieces of work”. Nik Perring says “ This was something different. One of the most important things we can do as people is to think about what other people might be feeling, and putting ourselves in character’s shoes made for some really interesting discussion…we had characters with OCD, autism – we had bullying – all sorts. I met brilliant and talented and caring young people who made brilliant art and stories”.

St Helens libraries ran a series of very well received empathy class visits for targeted schools, exploring feelings and characters’ perspectives through a shared book. Younger children focused on David Litchfield’s  The Bear and the Piano , and older children took a fresh look at what Goldilocks did before she broke into the bears’ house. Library staff created displays of books using the theme “walk in their shoes”. Kathryn Boothroyd, Service Development Manager, says: “libraries have a very important role in highlighting the vital part reading plays in supporting empathy skills, and help schools find suitable contemporary fiction for their pupils”

North Tyneside library staff made wordles based on their favourite children’s books. These were tweeted, posted on the library facebook page and used in an Empathy Day display.  “Creating wordles made people think about the emotional impact of their favourite books, reinforcing the power of literature to enhance self awareness and a greater understanding and connection to the lives of others”.

Totton library in Hampshire worked with a local school, Netley Marsh Infants, supporting children’s work on making Empathy Awards to book characters showing exceptional empathy. The schools’ Executive Headteacher stationed herself at the library to encourage families to make several library visits in the run up to Empathy Day. The children loved it:  We can’t wait to find out which book has won the award. I am going to go to the library next time to get my book chosen.”  (Y2 boy).  

Essex Libraries piloted an empathy-focused event for young library users in Chelmsford, basing it on Oliver Jeffers’ superb book,  The Day The Crayons Quit . Children aged 4-7 were very thoughtful in exploring the squabbling crayons’ different viewpoints, and learnt new words for feelings. This was a very different kind of story event, involving explicit exploration of emotions and different perspectives. 

A big thank you to the library services and the many, many individual librarians who joined in Empathy Day. In creating libraries’ plans, we were delighted to be supported by the Society of Chief Librarians. We’re now talking to them and the participating library services about developing an exciting library for future Empathy Days.

By EmpathyLab 04 Jul, 2017

A huge thank you to everyone who got involved on Empathy Day, June 13. There is clearly huge public interest in the cultivation of empathy as a beacon of hope in our divided world. 

As our name suggests, we’re experimenting with new ways to build children’s empathy skills, and Empathy Day was our first national activity. It started as a small scale activity in a handful of schools, but the idea caught fire, and we worked with authors, publishers and libraries to trial a wider model. 

To our delight and astonishment, by 11am #EmpathyDay was trending on twitter, and continued to do so throughout the day, reaching over 5 million twitter accounts on Empathy Day alone. 

Based on the hard new scientific evidence showing that reading stories builds real-life empathy, we ran a social media  #ReadforEmpathy  campaign encouraging everyone to share empathy-boosting reading experiences and recommendations. This had a similarly high reach of 1.6 million twitter users, with an outpouring of recommendations for books which people said were empathy-boosting. 

And beyond the sheer volume of activity around #EmpathyDay and #ReadforEmpathy there wwas rich input around both hashtags from parents, schools, academics, charities and social justice activists.  

We’re now sifting through all of the insight from the day to understand what it was that captured so many people’s imaginations. We’ll share this, and the activity in different settings, in future posts.  

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!
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
On Saturday 7 February libraries and their communities will be celebrating National Libraries Day. What better time to consider libraries’ role in helping children build their emotional intelligence , especially empathy?

EmpathyLab is passionate about using words and stories to help children understand and empathise with others. We also believe that through stories, children can understand themselves better.

Libraries and their staff have a vital empathy boosting role. Obviously, they provide children and their parents with a great choice of books – from picture books for young children exploring new experiences and emotions through to books for young adults coping with questions and uncertainties about growing up.

But library staff can also help children find the books that are right for them, and they love talking to children about these. All library services take part in the national Summer Reading Challenge , developed by The Reading Agency and delivered in partnership with UK children’s library services. As children read six books, collecting rewards along the way, library staff and young volunteers focus on discussing books , enabling children to think about the stories and explore the characters’ emotions.

In the early years libraries also give families the chance to share rhymes, stories and songs. This precious close time helps build the strong relationships that are a key foundation for empathy.

So how will EmpathyLab help libraries develop their ability to build children’s empathy skills? We are currently testing two training offers. The first is based on research into special ways of reading and sharing books that help staff talk to children in a way that focuses on the characters and emotions, helping them reflect and understand whilst keeping the discussion safely within the context of the story. The second concentrates on the early years and particularly rhyme time sessions; highlighting the importance of parents and carers sharing rhymes face to face with children as well as with rhyme time leaders. Children watching the faces and the expressions of the significant people in their lives during these special times can really strengthen the bond between them.

Library staff who have taken part in the training have been enthusiastic about the role of empathy in their work with children:

“I was really excited by the course and found it all quite inspirational. Would love to have some more input on how to bring the ideas to our work in libraries!”

“Talking about this just reminds us all of the intrinsic value that reading has. Just by reading a book you can feel better, less lonely, more connected...”

“It is important for all library staff to show empathy to their customers young and old.”

EmpathyLab will be developing its library offer over the next few months. On National Libraries Day let’s highlight the very special role libraries can play in children’s lives.

If you’d like more information about our training – do get in touch.

Keep up to date with what we’re up to on Twitter.

Join our network on LinkedIn – we’d love you to be part of the conversation.

Find out about the Top Ten Messages from our Think In and our next steps.
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Empathy Lab is thrilled to be part of the Southbank’s superb Imagine Children’s Festival. Do come and join us at two free events on Friday 13 and Monday 16 February 2015. We’ll be using rhymes and stories to help children understand their own and other people’s feelings, and sharing them with parents and carers.

Empathy boosting rug rhyme session, 10.30am, Friday 13 February

Join us in a special kind of Rug Rhyme for children aged 0-5. We’re partnering with The Poetry Library to immerse children in rhymes that are great for parents and carers to share face to face with children to help build closeness. After the rhyme session, we’d love parents and children to help us make a creative display expressing feelings about enjoying rhymes and poems together.

INCLUSIVE MINDS’ DAY: Monday 16 February

Sue Hendra and Norman the Slug 11.00-11.30

EmpathyLab uses stories to help children understand their own and other people’s feelings, and is partnering Inclusive Minds to create this event. It features author/illustrator Sue Hendra (pictured above) and Norman, a slug who longs to be a snail. In a hilarious, touching and hugely creative session, Sue will involve children in exploring Norman’s feelings and children’s responses will form part of the EmpathyLab Feelings Wall.

EmpathyLab Feelings Wall drop in 11.30-1.30

Children can meet Sue Hendra, read Norman the Slug, and have fun making, drawing and writing about their responses on the EmpathyLab Feelings Wall.

Read our crowd-sourced recommendations for books that help you understand someone else better.

Keep up to date with what we’re up to on Twitter.

Find out about the Top Ten Messages from our Think In and our next steps.
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Artist, administrator and researcher Shyama Persaud came along to our Think In by serendipity. Inspired by the event, she gives us her thoughts and challenges on empathy being an inherently creative mechanism and underpinning societal issues:

My attendance at EmpathyLab’s Think In at the South Bank Centre was entirely serendipitous; I had checked the venue website about another event, but the word ‘empathy’ caught my eye. My immediate response was ‘I’ve got to go to this’. And so, I did….and so glad I did! To be surrounded by a group of such experienced and socially engaged individuals felt like a masterclass in how to change the world. The opening talks by Roman Krznaric and Sue Palmer were inspiring and insightful, followed by group work that was stimulating and thought-provoking.

In recent years, I have developed an increasing interest in empathy and compassion, becoming aware of such social activism as Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion campaign and Krznaric’s groundbreaking work on empathy, including the concept of outrospection. It is heartening to witness this growing awareness of otherness, although perhaps not surprising when considered within the context of an increasingly individualized society.

Unlike most Think In participants, I do not have a professional background in work with children or storytelling, but do have a strong interest in psychosocial research. In addition, my experience of developing listening skills within a student counselling triad offered a new, deeper perspective of empathy. This highly focused process challenged and altered my understanding of it, as I became more aware of subtle aspects previously not appreciated; this included the fact that empathy is essentially an embodied mode of being, rather than merely a frame of mind, and that my capacity for it was dependent upon my overall state, such as whether or not I was feeling tired. Likewise, my journey along the spiritual path of Yoga during the last six years has fuelled my commitment to developing greater empathic understanding of others. When everything is fine and dandy, this has felt relatively easy. However, negotiating life’s inevitable vicissitudes, both great and small, has highlighted the real challenges involved in maintaining an open heart and mind at all times. I fail frequently, but try constantly.

The prospect of increasing empathy amongst children through storytelling feels at once logical yet radical, simple yet complex. Empathy is an inherently creative mechanism. Like forgiveness and gratitude, it implies movement and the capacity to traverse a gap from one’s felt experience to one’s thoughts, including from self to other; finding the familiar in the foreign. Storytelling, therefore, makes perfect sense as a means by which to facilitate and foster these psychic leaps, in this case, into imaginary worlds. Is there a link between the mechanism of building relational bridges through empathy and losing oneself in books with other processes of self transcendence and escapism, such as digital virtuality, alcohol, drugs, and religious or spiritual worship, I wonder? If so, could this be relevant to EmpathyLab’s research and development programme?

As social creatures, embedded within a relational matrix from birth, we have, as Krznaric identifies, both innate empathic and anti-empathic potentials. In turn, these are subject to external influences that support and challenge. From I-centric marketing slogans to rigid, non-dialogic political discourse and governments acting with impunity, we are habitually bombarded with powerful messages in support of individualized thinking that effectively oppose the discourse of otherness. At the Think In, the influence of capitalism was astutely noted. I wonder whether establishing key factors that enable empathy to exist and thrive, along with those that hamper it – empathic and anti-empathic influences – might be a fruitful exercise in creating a social map of its natural habitats.

EmpathyLab identifies, and aims to address, a social trend that is well documented, namely, that empathy amongst children is declining. It is clear this has real long-term implications. Empathy underpins all societal issues. A limited capacity to consider the other – from their perspective – leads to behavior and actions that negatively impact both current and future generations.

I am thrilled to have stumbled upon EmpathyLab’s unique vision, humbled by the passionate, talented individuals I have met so far and excited to be a (tiny) part of it through the writing of this piece. I look forward to the next event!

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.

Photo credit: Dan Chippendale
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Jacqueline Batchelor from Hampshire Educational Psychology gives EmpathyLab her thoughts on helping young people and the adults living or working with young people develop empathy:

As an educational psychologist, I am passionate about the “creative power of words to build empathy and the power of empathy to make the world a better place”, as outlined in the mission statement of EmpathyLab. So much of an educational psychologist’s work centres around helping young people develop empathy and also helping the adults living or working with the young people develop empathy for the young people.

In Hampshire, the educational psychologists train and give ongoing supervision to Emotional Literacy Support Assistants to support young people in schools. Emotional Literacy Support Assistants foster empathy and model empathy for the young people with whom they work.

We also train school staff to run Therapeutic Story Writing Groups (using Trisha Waters’ model), using the magic of story and metaphor to help children express their emotions in an appropriate and non-threatening or exposing way. Children are encouraged to write about anything they like and this excites and motivates them to write more. This not only gives them confidence and boosts their sense of belonging and wellbeing, but it improves their literacy skills as a by-product of addressing their emotional needs. It is vital to motivate young people to read and write, not just equip them with decoding and spelling skills. Through accessing stories, people can think about others and others’ contexts and issues, as well as their own, all of which are important life skills.

We have recently begun to train adults to run Story Links sessions which bridges the gap between home and school through the medium of co-creating a story with a young person, their parent/carer and a teaching assistant. Both children and adults connect through the fun and laughter arising from making up a story together and develop insights into another’s world. It was through experiencing the impact of this work first hand that drew me to want to find out more about EmpathyLab’s intentions.

It would be lovely if the freedom of telling and writing stories could be extended to a wider audience to reach more young people and adults than is possible through small group or 1:1 interventions. I look forward to hearing more about EmpathyLab’s proposals in this respect and would be keen to support such an approach or further research into the matter. Convincing others, who are pressurised by curriculum demands, is a challenge, yet the irony is that by giving children the freedom to write, they write more and they write better, as well as feel better.

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.

Thank you to Melanie Holtsman for her fantastic image ‘Get ready, Get Set, Write’ used under creative commons.

By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive and Farrah Serroukh, Teaching and Learning Manager from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, tell us about their work, the power of stories and connecting with EmpathyLab:

The longstanding research and work of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) acknowledges the fundamental value and power of stories and children’s literature to support the personal, social, emotional and academic growth of a child. Our experience, particularly from the Power of Reading project, has shown us that there are books which lend themselves to being talked about, thought through, returned to and which are engaging for children for a variety of reasons. They tend to be texts with powerful stories which engage children, stir ideas and feelings and excite the reader’s interest and imagination. They are books that children will want to re-read, to savour and will remember. An emotional engagement with a text can be transformative for children’s literacy development – it can also be transformative for their emotional development.

At CLPE we are dedicated to promoting creative and innovative ways for children to engage with high quality literature and the art of story-telling and use these as stimuli to support their journey through childhood in the fullest sense. For us, The EmpathyLab Think-In was an opportunity to explore how words and stories can be used to build children’s empathy in a room teeming with artists, authors, teachers, researchers, young people – and many others from different spheres of work.

We are pleased and keen to be involved in any programme that promotes the opportunities to use writing, reading and storymaking to help young people develop the empathy skills they need to thrive and become a force for good in the world. We know from our own work that drama and role play provide immediate routes into the world of a story and allow children to explore texts actively. They are mechanisms to enable children to put themselves into a particular character’s shoes and imagine how things would look from that point of view. Through storytelling, drama and role play children can deepen their understanding and imagining of characters and events. We know that they can then extend this understanding to their reading and their writing.

Thinking about how children can extend this understanding to their relationships, their interactions with the wider world and their futures has surely got to be a priority and worthwhile mission for everyone working or participating in the development of our children and young people. The aspirations of the EmpathyLab provide a unique opportunity to get to the heart of what defines empathy and consider its relationship with stories. We are very glad we were invited to be involved and are looking forward to continuing to work in partnership.

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.

Photo credit: Dan Chippendale
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
We’ve been spending the time since the Think-In analysing the material everyone generated. Here are the top ten messages from what you told us:

The approach has significant potential: there was a warm welcome for the idea of using the creative power of words and stories to build empathy in children and young people. We should talk about empathy habits not skills.
Big welcome for EmpathyLab’s role in involving a range of different people/expertise: many of you commented on the surprising, and welcome, mix of people at the Think- In. You said there is new learning that comes from this mix of skills, knowledge and professions, with potential to generate dynamic ideas and solutions.
We need a strong evidence base: we need to develop robust research, and a plan to mix research and practice, working iteratively, using our research to further develop our activities. We should be clear about exactly what social change we hope to bring about by boosting empathy, and work with a clear definition of empathy.
Keep this open, consultative approach going: including working with partners but maintaining a unique offer and developing programmes that can be scalable. Sharing our research and continuing the open iterative approach.
Co-design the programme with children and young people: You recommended establishing a principle to co-design our activities and programmes with children and young people. We were encouraged to treat empathy as a positive horizon- broadening habit, not just a tool to tackle problems. You said it should be possible to support targeted vulnerable children as well as providing universal support.
Highlight and explore the relationship between empathy and literacy: we should build on the potential of empathy to improve literacy. And further investigate the neuroscience research that links empathy and literacy.
Be clear about how words and stories will be used: you said we should have a flexible approach to using a wide range of words and stories – including songs, plays and images. It’s important to recognise the power of children’s own stories and stories in the local community. We need to tackle the challenges and opportunities of digital and empathy – including reviewing and understanding research.
Our programmes will be powerful if they… are inter-generational, give children experiences of difference communities, focus on a range of age-groups including under-fives.
Include, and go beyond, schools: in the community based action research we need to establish easy-to-use frameworks for teachers. We should also work through other community organisations to equip parents and carers with the confidence to tell stories. Nurseries, libraries and children’s centres could be important partners.
Partnerships: a huge range of potential partners came forward. There was a welcome for EmpathyLab’s role in supporting and joining partners from different fields – mental health, wellbeing, literacy, neuroscience etc. You said there was a role for EmpathyLab both in direct delivery and enabling those we work with to deliver.
Some of the things you said:

Great to get the chance to speak to such a wide range of people and do some real deep thinking (so often passed by in day to day life). Carolyn Koussa, Puffin

Find a way to understand (as part of your research) how the internet influences a child’s lack of empathy, or indeed improves it. Harness this for positive action, go where the children are, not where you think they should be. Shannon Cullen, Penguin Random House

Repeat these types of event throughout your process. Claire van Ryhn, Shambala/University of Exeter

Empathy is learned by modelling – when we experience it we learn it and pass it on, therefore children need space to have their internal world acknowledged, listened to, understood through stories etc. Would be fantastic in schools, nurseries. Bernadette Cahill, Place2Be

I would love to see EmpathyLab campaign for empathy/emotional literacy to be more highly valued in education. Alice Lacey, Now Press Play

This concept has significant legs/potential. Connects to literacy/wellbeing and building communities. Teresa Cremin, Open University

Next steps:

Our next steps are to form an expert reference group to help develop our vision and theory of change which will identify our priorities, the impact we hope to make and how we will measure it. We will then start seeking funding for a local action research programme and the development of national events and resources.

We’d love to stay in touch. Please follow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn community of practice. From time to time we’ll be doing an update newsletter which you can subscribe to here. Please let us know if you would like to do a short blog for our website.

If you were one of the people who so kindly offered to help us, we’ll be in touch separately. We had far more offers of help than we were expecting (hooray!) so please bear with us as we work out what kind of help we need, when.

Download the EmpathyLab Top Ten Messages.

Download the EmpathyLab book recommendations – thank you to everyone who contributed their book that helped you understand someone else better.


By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
I attended the EmpathyLab Think-In with two different hats precariously balanced – one as a former children’s academic with a Masters in Children’s Literature, and one as the Children’s Publicist for Faber & Faber. I was instantly engaged by the idea of bringing empathy and stories together in a concrete way, as I think it’s a crucial connection. In my masters, I studied children’s capacity for empathy and cultural understanding using picture books, and within an hour of small group work saw that their reactions to the texts were clearer and more open minded. In addition, as a book publicist I get to attend a large number of book events, and get a lot of joy from watching children interact with our brilliant authors. I love listening to their imaginations and ideas develop and would love to see their range of understanding of others widen even more as a part of this.

So I was very keen to discuss this further, and the range of professional backgrounds at the event made for a fascinating evening. Getting perspectives from authors, psychologists, librarians and a host of other specialisms led to focussed discussions on what we deemed empathy to actually mean, who we thought needed training in empathy, and how we might go about implementing changes in the future. I found the two speakers, Roman Krznaric and Sue Palmer to be further proof that the earlier children are introduced to ideas of empathy the better, and that stories are the best catalyst for this growth.

Titles of books that sparked empathy in us were celebrated with great excitement. For myself, it was Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman and Harper Lee who forced me to see the world differently as a teenager. But I could even trace back to Dogger by Shirley Hughes as a book that made me think about other people’s feelings as a toddler. It was almost universally agreed at both of my tables that stories and books were a successful way to get children thinking empathetically.

The challenges however are how to implement this, what age group to focus on and whether to go for a targeted or blanket approach. From my research, I know that whilst children can develop these skills from just reading some may need more help, as well as direction to the right sort of books. When the children I worked with were given time and support and encouraged to engage with stories, they considered the viewpoints of others more carefully. But making this a larger scale operation could be tricky. Another obstacle will be not making the study entirely focused on literacy, as this makes the assumption that children who are more successful academically do not need to be thinking about these issues, whereas in fact the reverse may sometimes be true.

I also agree that having authors involved, who have created characters often very different to them, can be inspiring to children, and where possible their help would be very useful. The EmpathyLab Think-In had all the right ideas about what would be useful, the next step is working out the best way to make that happen.

Hannah Love is Children’s Publicist at Faber & Faber.

Find out more about EmpathyLab’s plans and join our network on LinkedIn – we’d love you to be part of the conversation.

Photo credit: Dan Chippendale
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
It was over a week ago I joined a fascinating group of authors, publishers, librarians, educators and others at the Southbank Centre for the EmpathyLab Think- in. Through facilitated activities we were prompted to share our understandings of the concept and invited to be open to the viewpoints of others. Philosophical stances were shared, passionate positions voiced and discussion and debate ensued. Many present attested to the power of literature and of oral stories as resources to support the development of empathy in the young, and rich lists of texts that have the power to move children (and adults) to think otherwise and become aware of others’ situations were drawn up.

Literature can make a difference. Reading allows young people to gather information about the world and how they fit into it, thus supporting their identity explorations and understanding of themselves and others (e.g. Appleyard,1990; Rothbauer, 2004; Arizpe, Colmer and Martínez-Roldán 2014). Reading literature distinctively excites and develops the imagination which is one of Robin Alexander’s (2010) key aims for the primary curriculum, in order that children can:

…advance beyond present understanding, extend the boundaries of their lives, contemplate worlds possible as well as actual, understand cause and consequence, develop the capacity for empathy, and reflect on and regulate their behaviour . . . [W]e assert the need to emphasise the intrinsic value of exciting children’s imagination. To experience the delights – and pains – of imagining, and of entering into the imaginative world of others, is to become a more rounded person (Alexander, 2010:199)

This statement, as Cliff Hodges (2010) observes, could equally apply to reading literature which, many would argue, is itself a key creative skill and one which can support children’s personal, social, and moral education, and can strengthen, challenge or alter the ways in which they see the world and engage with it (e.g. Landay and Wootton, 2012; Ross et al., 2006). Additionally, recent US research suggests that high quality literary fiction that requires intellectual engagement and creative thought, enables young readers to develop the complex social skill of ‘mind-reading’ in order to understand others’ mental states (Kidd and Castano, 2013).

Such empathy and mindfulness of others is a valuable personal and social asset, and is the developmental focus of EmpathyLab who plan to develop four community programmes across 2015-17. Yet despite the potency of children’s fiction, such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Charlotte Moundlic’s The Scar or the award winning A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, texts themselves do not necessarily move us beyond deep in-the-moment affective and empathetic engagement. What seems critical for the project work devised is the pedagogical context in which any such multimodal (and multimedia) texts are explored. The presence of others, (peers- artists- authors- teachers- parents and/or siblings), and the ensuing conversation and activities will help make the difference, enabling connections to be made and consequences to be realised. In classrooms and workshops, pedagogy is key to helping guide children’s thoughts and actions beyond the immediate context and to ensuring the development of imaginative innerstanding – of empathy. Understanding the pedagogies which foster this and the longer term impact on young people’s perspectives, compassion and actions is, in my view, at the core of the challenge ahead.

Teresa Cremin is Professor of Education at the Open University.

Find out more about EmpathyLab’s plans and join our network on LinkedIn – we’d love you to be part of the conversation.

Photo credit: Dan Chippendale

References

Appleyard, J. A. (1990) Becoming a reader: the experience of fiction from childhood to adulthood Cambridge: Cambridge University press.

Alexander, R. (2010) (ed) Children, their world and their education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review. London and New York: Routledge

Arizpe, E. Colmer, T. and Martínez-Roldán,C. (2014) Visual Journeys Through Wordless Narratives, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Cliff–Hodges, G (2010) Rivers of reading: Using critical incident collages to learn about adolescent readers and their readership English in Education Vol.44(3 ) 180-199

Kidd, D. and Castano, E. (2013) Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind Science 342(6156) 377-390.

Landay, E. and Wootton, K. (2012) A Reason to Read: Linking Literacy and the Arts Cambridge MA: Harvard.

Ross, C.S. McKechnie, L. and Rothbauer, P.M. (2006) Reading Matters: What research reveals about reading, libraries and community Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
By EmpathyLab 31 Jan, 2017
I came along to EmpathyLab’s Think In at London’s Southbank with an open heart and mind. I had no idea of what to expect and was totally blown away by the vibrant enthusiasm I found. Well over one hundred professionals, from as many different backgrounds, coming together to freely share their expertise in exploring ways of using stories and words to improve empathy skills for our children.

In my capacity as a therapist (working with children and families for the past twenty years) and as a children’s author (working in schools for the past four), it’s clear that whatever the cause, a huge number of children now lack basic empathy skills. Both in my practice room and in the classroom, children find it difficult to articulate their feelings, have no clue as to how to resolve conflict, no idea how to bring basic kindness to themselves, let alone to others. It’s a fact that they are struggling. Self-harming of one sort or another is escalating; bullying is commonplace, gang culture in on the rise.

Don’t get me wrong – many children do possess great empathy skills, and these are the ones seen flourishing in the classroom, on the playing field, in the art room, in the orchestra. These are the ones whose imagination flies out of them during creative writing classes, knocking me sideways with their brilliance.

As part of their research and development programme, I wonder if EmpathyLab might consider talking to the children who are rich in empathy skills to see how theses skills have been learned? My guess is they’d find that a huge number of these children have a culture of story at the centre of their world.

The loveliest thing about EmpathyLab’s approach, using stories and words to promote empathy, is that it has the possibility of imbuing a generation of children with strong empathy skills, without expecting the children to do anything other than have fun with words and stories – and in a culture focused on academic achievement, this has to be a great thing. I agree that not all children like reading, for some it’s the hardest thing in the world – but show me a child who doesn’t love a story and I’ll willingly eat my hat!

In agreement with Sue Palmer, who spoke about her passion for enhancing empathy through stories and words, alongside the inspiring Roman Krznaric, I think a key feature of EmpathyLab’s work must be around teaching empathy as an embodied process. Experiencing feelings and emotions as sensations in the body, as opposed to viewing them from the mind, is the difference between knowing empathy as a concept and living it as a human. This difference is simply taught and crucial if we are truly to make an impact and raise happy healthy humans.

We may never know why so many of today’s children lack empathy, although many ideas were put forward at the Think In – helicopter parenting doesn’t promote resilience – too much screen time has a numbing effect – parents are too busy to promote empathy – over testing in schools has seen empathy and pastoral care in general take a back seat, etc etc. If we don’t intervene soon, and promote empathy skills early on in life, we will be responsible for creating a generation of unfeeling monsters, destined to be devoid of the richness and fullness a life lived with empathy can bring.

I truly believe that EmapthyLab can create a revolution, and feel touched and blessed to be a part it.

Kate Maryon is a writer and a therapist.

Find out more about EmpathyLab’s plans and join our network on LinkedIn – we’d love you to be part of the conversation.

Photo credit: Dan Chippendale
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 19 Jan, 2017
Today EmpathyLab held two workshops with over 100 pupils at the Southbank Centre’s WHY Festival. Inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the festival celebrates the rights of children and young people, and considers how the needs and ideas of under-18s can influence the world around them.

why_2015_logo_4_web

We were delighted to host this workshop alongside Amnesty International UK and the award-winning author Tanya Landman.

“Empathy is when you understand or care about somebody else’s feelings” – so opened the workshop. But more than that, empathy can inspire us to action. Using the current refugee crisis as a thought catalyst, we asked the pupils present to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and write about how it felt.

The Long Walk
A Long Walk by Shannon Jensen




We provided some questions to open the discussions:

Where are you?
What time of day is it?
What’s the first thing you see when you open your eyes?
Are you alone? Or are you with someone else?
working hard writing action shot



After a reading from Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (the winner of the Carnegie Medal 2015), the pupils threw themselves into their creative writing.









The results were moving and thought-provoking, and the children’s responses filled a whole wall:

empathy wall

The pupils present also transformed their empathy into action by taking part in Amnesty UK’s #refugeeswelcome campaign:

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 18.33.31

Huge thanks to Tanya Landman, Amnesty, the Southbank Centre, our volunteers, and of course, all of the pupils that took part so enthusiastically. We were delighted to receive really positive feedback, and are already looking forward to our next event!

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By EmpathyLab 19 Jan, 2017
We’re hot foot from the Imagine Festival at the South Bank Centre , where we were part of a buzzy Roald Dahl Day for families. Celebrities read the whole of Matilda to a fascinated crowd of families


Neuroscience research shows that empathising with book characters helps children be more empathetic in real life. So at the EmpathyLab stand, we invited children to focus on Matilda and her feelings, starting by putting on empathy glasses to help them really see things through her eyes. It was wonderful to see their concentrated expressions as they imagined how she might feelCbfsbS_WAAASJYK
Once in character, they wrote postcards from Matilida to characters in the book, with lots of words about her feelings. Then we creating a huge empathy wall with all their different messages:

Alongside us were partners Inclusive Minds, who develop innovative projects aimed at creating truly inclusive, diverse and accessible books. Children adored their activity which was to make a crazy Roald Dahl name by picking three words from a hat.

Our very simple book character activity could be adapted for use at all sorts of festivals and events. Please let us know if you’d like to partner with us .
By EmpathyLab 13 Jul, 2016
We’ve been asking people ‘ what book helped you understand someone else better?‘   Here are some of the books our supporters and people via Twitter have been recommending:
By EmpathyLab 06 Nov, 2014
We’re very much looking forward to our  Think-In  at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday 3 October. Meeting the amazing mix of people – writers, teachers, parents, psychologists, digital innovators – and more who’ll be coming along. Welcoming our guest speakers, Roman Krznaric  (author of Empathy: a handbook for revolution) and  Sue Palmer  (literacy expert and author of  Toxic  Childhood).

The potential of empathy to create a better society is becoming a strong theme in many spheres, from the arts to neuroscience. At the Think-In we’ll be sharing ideas and experiences as we explore how we can use writing, reading and storytelling to help young people develop the empathy skills they need to thrive and become a force for good in the world. We’ll be asking these questions:

  • What is empathy and what problems can it help solve? How can we define and measure the skills involved?
  • What would a great EmpathyLab action research programme look like, using words and stories to fuel an empathy movement?

Our   EmpathyLab Think-In flyer  gives more information and our paper EmpathyLab Thinking  outlines why we’re doing it, what difference we want to be making and the action research programme we’re planning on developing.

We’re just at the beginning of what EmpathyLab will be doing and the difference it will be making to young people’s lives – your input will help us shape our next steps.

Do join in the conversation on   Twitter   #empathylab and become part of our network on   LinkedIn .

Photo credit: Roman Krznaric by Kate Raworth.


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