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art and empathy

An Empathy Artist

Empathy Coordinator and 1st Grade Teacher Eleanor Palm explains how to cultivate empathy through reading.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

November 20, 2012

Eleanor Palm has created any educator’s, parent’s, or student’s dream classroom. Filled with light, color, and life – including plants and cockatiels – Palm’s classroom is a welcoming environment for building empathy in students. The artist behind this landscape, Palm has been training to be an empathy educator her whole life. Born to missionary parents, Palm grew up wanting to be a teacher and to be around children. After teaching migrant children in Florida and at a private school in DC, Palm joined the Key School staff and watched it grow from a small neighborhood school to a community of 400 students.

Despite the huge size of the school, Palm masterfully creates a small and caring community of students in her class. One of the main ways that she creates this empathic community is through storytelling. From sharing the stories of how they got their names, to telling stories of day-to-day life, students in Palm’s class are constantly communicating, giving and building empathy. However, this sharing and storytelling does not stop in class – students also bring home nightly readings to discuss and enjoy with their parents. An expert at empathy and literature, Palm was excited to share a few tips for encouraging empathy in your children while you read together:

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Reading together:

My nightly reading assignments include an ‘Explore Together’ article, which is an actual extension of the day’s discussions in class.  I find this to be a wonderful way to connect home and school life.  An example of this may be an article on Pablo Picasso after a math lesson on shapes or one on Elizabeth Cady Stanton after a lesson on adding results with tally marks from a voting graph.  There are many life lessons to be found in biographies, mythology, fables, and fairytales!  Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were teased as children and yet grew up to change the world in so many ways.  Robin Hood’s perspective on fairness is, in itself, worth three nights of family discussions!  Every good book is a springboard for insight, empathy building, and problem solving. Some thoughts on nightly reading:

Finding a quiet, distraction free length of time in a busy household can be challenging.  Be sure to keep your reading ritual consistent, calm, and stress free. Discuss the title and the possible plot before you even begin the story.  Does the title give away the plot line?  Ask your child to talk about the setting and the mood of the story.  You may want to ask your child about a favorite setting of his/her own.  Who are the characters, and can he/she relate to any of them?  Has your child had similar experiences to share?  You may want to talk about the choices that were made as the main conflict resolves itself.  Ask your child if he/she would have chosen differently.

There will be times when your little one will not want to engage in discussion and will simply want to listen, undisturbed, to the magical tale unfolding before them. When this happens, simply enjoy the moment with your child, and save the discussions for a time when you see the possibility of a connection.