Has your child ever watered plants in the gardens or talked to animals in the Farmyard? Perhaps they have visited the Ag and Nature Lab to care for cows in the dairy barn, release a monarch, or build like a beaver? Experiences like these help cultivate empathy, an important skill that requires children to imagine how others are feeling and to interact in an appropriate, caring way.
Why Children Need to Develop Empathy
We are all born with the capacity to be empathetic towards others, but it is a skill that needs constant nurturing. Developing empathy towards others plays an important role in a child’s ability to form meaningful relationships with peers and family members. As children learn to treat the world around them with care and respect, they develop a sense of acceptance, well-being, and community.
Teaching empathy and compassion through caring for plants and animals is a natural fit for children, and something we try to foster at the Museum. Our farm animals draw children over to learn about how we care for them. We talk about how they eat, play, and sleep. Museum garden beds provide a place for children to learn what plants need to grow and thrive. Children enthusiastically water the plants and await the sampling of produce each growing season. They learn that their efforts can produce great results.
It is easy to initiate conversations about the needs of living and growing things wherever you are. Having these conversations allows children to think about the needs of others, while reflecting on similar needs of their own.
Practice empathy with your child by modeling compassionate behavior. Show your child that you care for the world around you. The Museum’s Farmyard is a great place for this practice, but it can also extend to your backyard. Outdoor spaces offer children an opportunity to observe how animals, birds, and insects need a safe habitat to survive. These observations create a sense of empathy with the natural world, and a sense of place. They allow children to play, explore, and care for an area that becomes close to their heart.
Now is the perfect time for you to get outside with your children to explore nature. Observe the life around you and show respect and care for other living things. Exercise those empathy muscles!