Serving Preschool Through 8th Grade in the San Francisco East Bay Since 1962

Planting Seeds of Empathy (AKA, 5th Graders with Babies!)

5th Grade Teaching Team
“Empathy is seeing the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” - Alfred Adler
Over the summer, many of the Seven Hills faculty and staff read the book UnSelfie: Why Empathic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba. Dr. Borba argues that empathy-building is not only a moral imperative, but a key advantage in kids attaining health, happiness, and future career success. UnSelfie unpacks several empathy studies, including the “Roots of Empathy” evidence-based program developed by educator Mary Gordon in 1996. At the heart of this study are babies who visit student classrooms—to “teach” students how to observe their development and label their feelings.
The 5th grade teaching team was inspired to bring a similar experiential lesson to Seven Hills during the first week of school. Five special baby guests, including Ms. Prieto’s son, Ms. Thompson’s nephew, and other various friends visited the 5th grade classrooms. As students observed the facial expressions and the body language of the babies, they discussed what emotions they saw conveyed: scared? confused? relaxed? They also talked with each other about what the most appropriate and compassionate reaction would be to each emotion. As the activity went on, the students then reflected on how this awareness could help them interact with more empathy, kindness, and understanding toward their friends and family.
“Building emotional intelligence in friendships is a key skill, but these skills have to be taught and developed,” said teacher Kelly McCargar. Fellow teacher Cassidy Thompson added that with a more “plugged in” generation that grew up with technology, kids often don’t have the same level of practice with socializing and reading others’ emotions. Empathy needs to be taught, and paying attention and raising the awareness level is the first step.
The New York Times reports that empathy lessons are spreading amid concerns over the pressure on students—from high-stakes tests and a race to college that starts in kindergarten. Nurturing social-emotional literacy in all children reduces aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying for a more caring classroom.
The morning, bringing together 5th graders and babies, was an example of the Seven Hills learning that educates both the mind and the heart.