Blog and news: Denmark schools train students in empathy as early as preschool

For years our brain has been considered fairly fixed in terms of something like our empathic ability, but thanks to modern neuroscience, advanced brain imaging and the understanding of neuroplasticity (the growth and rewiring of our brain cells) it is now known that our brains are capable of change. In fact we are the architect of our own brain.

learning-and-neuroplasticity-in-the-brain-759x450Altering  beliefs, learning to view something differently or becoming mindful of repetitive, often unconscious reactions to unpleasant emotions, you can actually alter the neurochemistry and the structure of your brain. Empathy is a natural resource but can be developed too to optimise it. It’s not easy, but it can be done! We can emotionally train and strengthen our brain.

So how great to see that a Danish school is embedding empathy is the preschool children, placing emotional development as important as academic development.

From experiencing three pre – school children in my care, one non biologcial child, who’s mum (my friend) had died when she was four (six months before she started school)  and I subsequently brought up. Then my biological twins, who knew this first child of mine as their big sister, started school at four, six months after her untimely death aged fifteen.

Whilst my academic background is counselling, specialising in loss and bereavement, I am also painfully qualified to know first hand the difficulties of having a pre-school child needing a high level of emotional care. My main objective,  was to ensure they felt safe, happy and emotionally protected in school, rather than desperate for them to master their academic objectives. I knew that Sruggling At Schoolto reach their learning potential, they needed to feel emotionally safe and not pre-occupied by grief, anxiety and worry. CARE was more important that ABC. From their peer group as well as their teachers.

As a now 47 year old woman, I know that having empathy and emotional awareness training at school did not happen when I was at school and I know it didn’t really for my children too much either. It was something I have always had a high natural capacity for, but one that I have been learning and developing for over 25 years now. Working now with health and and social care professionals to develop their empathy and emotional awareness in the unique way that I do (particularly with the NHS complaints system) I see time and again, how much more empowered they feel. In understanding themselves and feeling more confident handling other peoples difficult emotions in their role at work and also being allowed to feel human in a policy driven system,  is an understated but hugely beneficial life skill to have and learn ….and keep learning….and keep developing.

How lucky these young children in Denmark  are to have this important life lesson embedded into their curriculum and their young brains (full story below). With mental health issues on the rise in the UK, I can’t help but think that if our youngsters had this support, when they become adults, they would  have more capacity to emotionally support themselves, support others and avoid the crisis that so many people go through when life throws it’s inevitable painful challenges at them.

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Original news source:

Denmark schools train students in empathy as early as preschool

Dive Brief:

  • Danish children are exposed to lessons as early as preschool that are specifically designed to foster feelings of empathy and understanding.
  • The Atlantic reports a program called Step by Step presents young students with pictures of kids showing a range of emotions and helps them identify these feelings, talk about them and respect them.
  • Anti-bullying programs teach students to care more about each other, the CAT-kit program helps students develop empathy and emotional awareness and classroom teachers group students of mixed abilities to encourage collaboration, teamwork and respect across differences.

Dive Insight:

Social-emotional learning is an important and increasingly popular focus for K-12 in the U.S., alongside the major academic subject areas. Schools are where students develop a good amount of their social skills, learning how to interact and work with others. That is one reason why people oppose segregated schools. Especially in a globalized world, a student’s ability to respect and work with someone who is not like her is a prized skill.

Many schools are shifting kindergarten back to a play-based curriculum, following years of pressure to drill skills that students need for standardised tests just a few years later. Play, however, helps children learn to collaborate and gives them a more engaging opportunity to improve math and literacy skills. Perhaps a greater focus on empathy and this type of play early on can decrease the rates of bullying in middle and high schools in the United States.


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