Everyone has their own definition of art. For children, it can be a key tool for learning about empathy. Bringing art into the classroom, or sharing it between a parent and child, can teach children how to understand each other’s point of view. Whether a child is struggling with expression, or just learning to play with others, art is an important building block for developing empathy. Here we examine how art can build relationships and help children learn empathy.
Experts in Expression
Art gives children the chance to express themselves instead of simply following commands. Showing children that there isn’t a wrong way to create allows them to open up their imaginations. When they learn that art is a safe space to express themselves, they are able to appreciate the works of their peers as well. Empathy is created through building trust; this can be between classmates or between parent and child. When a parent or teacher interacts with their children, it allows the child to demonstrate their knowledge and feel confident. The child can become the teacher and the parent can learn how their child sees the world. A teacher’s role is to open the path to discovery and allow children the space to develop their expertise. When a child can go home and explain to their parents how ceramics are made and fired, it empowers the child and helps the parent understand their child’s world.
Talking About Art
Children need hands-on experience to learn, but they can also demonstrate an amazing capacity for observation. Introducing art to children as an observational experience is equally as important to developing their understanding of empathy. Ask a child for their emotional response to a work of art. Take a famous self-portrait, like one by Picasso, and find out what children think the artist was feeling while he painted. The tone, brush strokes, and facial features can all lead children into an understanding of someone else’s feelings, even if that is expressed in one word, like “sad” or “happy.” Engaging children with artwork created by their peers will also help foster understanding. Sharing artwork together at the end of class can help children discover what their peers think, feel, and are interested in. This isn’t just for older children, young children are excited to listen and experience the work of their peers even if it’s completely different from their own. Establishing a safe space for expression will allow this discovery to occur.
Community Builds Empathy
Art is as much about community as it is about expression. Artists want their expressions to be seen and appreciated. Creating with other artists builds an environment that is supportive of risk-taking. There’s a certain built-in safety net for children when all of their classmates are experimenting with something new alongside them. Sharing the experience of learning and exploring also brings children closer together and allows them to understand what their friend is going through, and how their interpretation of a situation might be the same or different.
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