Building blocks, books, bathrooms and bears – Putting Empathy Centre Stage by Maria Farrer

I am delighted to welcome Maria Farrer to my blog today to talk all things Mister P and Empathy Day…


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“Hello and a huge welcome to Empathy Day 2018; a day to put empathy centre stage and keep it there; a day to log on to http://www.empathylab.uk to discover a wealth of information and resources for the classroom and home; a day to share your empathy-boosting book recommendations with as wide an audience as possible using #Read forEmpathy.

I’ve always had an interest in the origins of words and empathy comes from the Greek meaning to be ‘in feeling’ with someone or something. Empathy is one of the greatest human attributes. The ability to understand, experience and share the perspective of another person or situation is central to the way we act and react in almost all aspects of our life—at home, at school, at work, at leisure. It is the bedrock on which relationships are built and maintained, the foundation upon which care and compassion can be nurtured and the platform from which bias and prejudice can be dissipated. In our current world, the need for empathy seems more crucial than ever before. If we can help our children to learn about empathy and provide them with an empathetic environment in which to explore, grow and learn then we’ll be providing them with one of the most important building blocks for success in any walk of life.

Stories have a massive role to play in helping children to develop empathy. A story can lure us into empathising so fully with a fictional world that we find our beliefs suspended and personal emotions hijacked as the characters in the story come to life and inhabit our imaginations. In short, we become so strongly ‘in-feeling’ with a character that their actions and reactions can help inform our own actions and reactions, thereby giving us new resources and strategies to help us deal with situations in everyday life. The more children read, the greater the opportunity for developing wider understanding and empathy. Empathy Lab’s book collection is a great place to start, but there are thousands of stories out there and I am sure we can all think of personal favourites that are not on the list. One of mine is Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, a story which I have found particularly useful as a springboard for discussions on inference and empathy.

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Early in the story we learn that no-one likes Bradley Chalkers and no-one wants to sit near him in the classroom. The writer makes us feel that we dislike Bradley too. He looks like a ‘good spitter’! Yet as the story progresses, we begin to see Bradley in a different light and our initial perceptions begin to change. It is a brilliant story that shows a situation from a variety of perspectives and demonstrates how empathy can open doors and empower change.

When I set out to write the Me and Mister P series, I similarly wanted to give readers a different perspective on a range of issues faced by children. I also wanted the stories to be packed with fun and full of life. Enter a large polar bear with long sharp teeth and paws the size of dinner plates; a polar bear that neither speaks nor thinks in ‘human’. His size is reflective of the magnitude of the challenges faced by some children; his arrival in an alien environment important to the notion that when life is difficult it can often feel hard to ‘fit in’ and his misbehaviour and misunderstandings a reassuring sign that we don’t have to be perfect to be valuable and valued.

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Illustration by Daniel Rieley

Mister P’s thoughts and feelings have to be intuited by those around him. Writing a main character who doesn’t speak is challenging, but the importance of non-verbal communication (body-language, facial expressions, growls, snores, tears, yawns, sighs and the like) all make a vital contribution to our understanding of emotions. Smiles, after all, mean the same in every language. The use of pictures and illustrations are particularly valuable when learning about non-verbal communication and an understanding of non-verbal cues forms a crucial part of developing empathy and emotional literacy.

In Me and Mister P, the bond between the child and the polar bear grows and develops as they learn together. Rather than running away from difficult situations, they search, instead, for solutions—solutions built on empathy and shared experience. They don’t always get it right because sometimes these things take time and consideration and, let’s face it, we are all fallible. Mister P is transitory, but the Mister P effect is lasting—ultimately making the characters with whom he comes in contact stronger, better and happier.

The attribute of empathy is also lasting; develop the foundations young and it will grow throughout life. The more we share and discuss stories and experiences with children the greater their understanding and range of emotional resources will be. Empathy helps to heal divisions and brings out the best in ourselves and others.

So, please, log on, discover, share and put empathy back where it should be. . .

CENTRE STAGE


Huge thanks to Maria for this wonderful guest post for #EmpathyDay. If you’d like to find out more about Maria and her books, you can follow her on Twitter @farrermaria, or check out her website: https://www.mariafarrer.com/

 

 

You can follow the links below to read my reviews of both books staring Mister P, the world’s most helpful(ish) polar bear:

And, do make sure you see what else is happening on the Mister P And Me: Ruby’s Star Blog Tour this week.

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What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day was founded in 2017 by EmpathyLab. With hate crimes at their highest level since records began, it uses stories to help us understand each other better, and highlights empathy’s power in our divided world. (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hate-crime-statistics). Empathy Day 2018 is on 12 June.

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Empathy Day’s calls to action

  • READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic
  • SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways
  • DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community

How to join in  

  • Share ideas for empathy-boosting books using #ReadForEmpathy @EmpathyLabUK
  • Use the free Read For Empathy Guide to 30 children’s books – at http://www.empathylab.uk
  • Follow this blog tour to hear the powerful voices of the authors and illustrators involved
  • Hundreds of schools and libraries are already taking part. Get a free toolkit from info@empathylab.uk
  • Use the ideas and free downloadable resources at  http://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day-resources

Please join in on Empathy Day itself – 12 June – by sharing your #ReadforEmpathy books. And do make sure you check out all of the other stops on the blog tour.

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Huge thanks to Fritha for inviting me to be a part of the #ReadforEmpathy Blog Tour.

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