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Cultivating empathy: Year 2

Empathy lies at the heart of what it means to be human, as Ms Peck’s Year 2 students are discovering in their first PYP Unit of Inquiry for 2021, Who We Are.

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Empathy is the ability to feel or imagine someone’s pain and offer help. Even for adults, empathy can be a difficult skill to cultivate, so imagine trying to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes when you are only seven years old!

Well, Ms Peck’s Year 2 students are determined to give it ‘a red hot go’ and have started the academic year by developing their capacity to consider other people’s circumstances, feelings and perspectives. After all, empathy is the foundation to acting ethically and to forging strong, compassionate friendships with one another, which is what we all try to practise at Wenona.

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This week, Year Two began their first Unit of Inquiry, which focuses on the central line of inquiry ‘Our choices and relationships have an impact on our health and wellbeing’. Before they started their inquiry, Ms Peck asked them to think about the following statements: Feeling empathy is important. It’s important to be more inclusive of others. And we must take responsibility for our actions.

We live in a very visual society, so Ms Peck gave Year 2 a series of photographs to consider. The girls moved around the classroom, looking at each photograph and carefully recording in their notebooks, what they saw, thought and wondered about each image.

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Isabella said, “I see three students talking together and a girl looking sad and angry. I think they are whispering bad things together about the girl. I wonder if they are whispering that the girl is bad. I wonder what they are whispering that made the girl so sad and angry.”

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The exercise was a very visual way for the students to reflect on why acts of empathy are important, and why lacking empathy can be harmful or divisive. Year 2 also began to consider what response could be appropriate or helpful to someone in a challenging situation.

The students are looking forward to reading Parachute by Danny Parker, the story of Toby who wears his parachute everywhere as it gives him the courage to deal with all the big things in life, including the enormous elephants that lurk outside his front gate! They've already been thinking about the importance of facing their own fears in order to grow. This will be another opportunity for them to reflect on the fact that we all have different struggles, and that the only way to evolve is by letting go of our safety nets.

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Over the course of this Unit of Inquiry, Year 2 will be reading lots more books, including The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, the story of a little boy called Brian, who nobody notices or includes in their games, birthday parties or class projects. It shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and enable them to shine.

The students will also be interviewing their parents, as well as Kindy and Year 3 students, to discover what makes them feel happy, sad or anxious, and to learn a little bit more about their feelings! They will then be writing a story to reflect all their research, learning and understanding.

As Year 2 have already discovered this week, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Everyone needs to feel understood. Empathy helps us get in touch with our feelings and gives us an emotional understanding of ourselves and others, so we need to do everything we can to connect, help, and support one another.

So much great learning Year 2!