Empathy for Kids: Step 1 of the Design Process

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Kid looking at the Design Process on an iPad

More and more, we hear about empathy as an essential component of elementary (even pre-K) education. Studies abound tell us that teaching kids how to effectively empathize with other people can play an important role in increasing students’ emotional intelligence and even reduce bullying in and out of the classroom.

There’s a truly fantastic post about empathy for kids over at Edutopia.org called Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students, and I would recommend it for any educator that works with kids. But I especially want to call out this section:

On this page of our Designer Workbook we use emotion words and clearly defined social issues to help kids empathize with their City X citizens.

On this page of our Designer Workbook we use emotion words and clearly defined social issues to help kids empathize with their City X citizens.

Students as “Changemakers”: When teachers guided students to identify school problems and encouraged them to work together to come up with solutions, this caused a shift in the school culture.

This really resonates with the City X Project team because one of our main goals with our workshop – and indeed part of the very mission of IDEAco itself – is to empower people with the tools and skills for making change. We’re trying to build Changemakers every time we run a City X workshop, and the citizen cards that each child gets is a vehicle for building empathy. Essentially, the kids in our workshop are put in service of someone else, and even though the characters of City X are fictional, we find that kids build strong bonds with them and very quickly began to think about social issues from new perspectives. Discussion between students about each others’ characters helps a lot with this as well.

This is exactly why “Empathize” is the first step in the Stanford d.School Design Process, even before students begin to Define a problem (step #2), they must understand the way in which the issue at hand affects others. Check out the Empathy section of the d.School’s Educator’s Guide to Design Thinking (PDF) for more information about each of the steps of the Design Process.

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