Initial Publication Date: September 18, 2020

Foster Empathy, Perspective, and Care-Taking

Encourage the care-taking of the environment. This can involve caring for community gardens, picking up trash in the schoolyard or neighborhood, or even home-building for insects or animals. The animals may not use the homes that students build, but students will start to empathize with the animal they are building a home for by thinking of its needs. Animals can be an effective means to engage students in conservation action because of their relatable nature and the strong affinity that most children show toward them.

Engaging in role-play, especially during the younger elementary grades, helps students start to take on the perspective of others. Children especially love to take on animal roles at this age. For example, what would it be like to be a polar bear? What needs does she have? How does she get her food, water, and shelter? Focus on the needs vs. the tragedies: How might the polar bear find food if some of the ice starts to disappear vs. what will happen to the polar bear if it can't find food? Using pronouns to describe animals can help students relate more easily to their environment and believe that humans are part of nature as opposed to separate from it.

For students in upper elementary, fostering empathy, care, and perspective-taking may involve facilitating conversations and investigations about issues of climate and environmental justice. For example, which communities are most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change? How are people of different ages impacted by environmental issues? Language of "fairness" can be useful for discussing justice issues with younger learners.

For more strategies related to this topic, see Best Practices for Developing Empathy Towards Wildlife.