What might happen if we create opportunities to explore the connections between imagination and empathy? As teacher-researchers we wondered, how might the children employ their imaginations to activate and practice their sense of empathy? We asked the children, "How do you make friends with a flower?"
The children embraced this question with great enthusiasm. Flowers were greeted with handshakes, formal introductions, kisses and hugs. Flower friends were carried around the room to the blocks and studio where children created gifts for the flowers. The next morning, children asked if they were going to have a chance to play with their flower friends again.
Here are a few sneak peeks of how some of the children played with the question when invited to interact with or make a gift for their flower friend.
EB decided that what he wanted to share with his flower was a good book. He chose one of his favorites off of the shelf and began to read it to his flower. On occasion he could be overheard trying to explain something in the book to the flower that he thought his flower might not understand, such as, "a boar is like a pig but it has more hair".
KK decided to name his flower, Spring, and then put her into a story created with collage materials.
"One time me and Spring went on a walk. We saw another flower and decided to bring it home. Then we were on our walk we decided to name him Bloomy. Then when we got back home Captain Hook came. He wanted to take Spring and Bloomy. Spring had an idea. Then we setted up the traps and Bloomy had what traps we could set up. Bloomy had all the blueprints for the traps. The first trap was pirhanas. The second trap was sharks. Then the third trap was a chopper. Then Captain Hook went away. Spring and Bloomy and me lived happily ever after. The End."
OA: "I'm going to paint a picture of my flower!"
IH: "The flower was having a celebration because it was his birthday! That's why there's fireworks!"
So, why do we offer the children these experiences? Why do we think that they are important? What are our hopes with these experiences?
We see this kind of experience as a natural opportunity for children to use their imaginations to play with important ideas. This invitation supported them to consider and reconsider their ideas of friendship and what it looks like and sounds like to care for another. We invite children to consider these ideas in many different ways to help them reflect on and deepen their understandings. New questions and contexts give them opportunities to apply past experience to new situations . These encounters offer children the opportunity to practice and to share their ideas about empathy, caring and connection.
Making friends with a flower is an extension of the deep connection to the natural world the children have expressed all year. One Opal School value is to support this relationship to the natural world, as children are future citizens who will be making the decisions that will directly affect nature's survival. When empathy and imagination are being nurtured and developed through a relationship to the natural world, one can imagine a beautiful future. This is what our world needs – citizens who know deeply what it looks like and sounds like to care for one another and our world. Children who practice living this way will hold a vision of possibility that their future communities will need.