by Marsha Rakestraw

In mid-January, two boys, ages 12 and 13, killed more than 500,000 bees and destroyed tens of thousands of dollars of property. Allegedly just for kicks.

In December 2017, a young Muslim woman was attacked on a transit train in Vancouver, Canada. Most people watched; only one young man intervened.

Incidences of casual cruelty, violence, destruction, and inaction by both children and adults are an everyday occurrence. And the current political climate in the US is definitely not fostering empathy.

An important part of becoming a solutionary is developing empathy, compassion, and respect for people, animals, and the earth.

Understanding different perspectives is part of this process.

Help your students understand different perspectives, and nurture their empathy for others, by trying one or more of these 11 activities:

1. For grades 2-5: Who Am I?
Many people know that pigs root around in the ground, that cows have four stomachs, and that chickens have wings, but some of these beings also make friends, remember faces, can play video games, and other characteristics that people often attribute only to humans. This activity serves as a great introduction to thinking about the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs, and chickens share and why we treat “farmed” animals the way we do.

2. For grades 3-5: Dare to Be Different
What is prejudice? Why do some people judge others because of their differences? How can we make positive choices that reflect understanding, acceptance, and tolerance? Students learn about these issues and have a chance to “dare to be different” by altering their appearance for a day.

3. For grades 4-10: Where Are the People Like Me
Students assess examples of media (catalogs, magazines, books, etc.) to consider who is (and isn’t represented) and to explore the impact of lack of diversity in media and their own rich experiences with diversity.

4. For grades 4-12: Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
How do our own stereotypes and judgments limit our openness and receptivity to others? This activity uses props (or photos) to explore our snap perceptions of others. Understanding how perceptions and assumptions inform decision-making will be important as they move into becoming solutionary thinkers.

5. For grades 4 and up: Council of All Beings
What does a mountain wish for? A wolf? A cow? A river? Participants “become” a being or part of nature and share the lives, concerns, hopes and wisdom of their being in a Council.

6. For grades 5-7: Mouse vs. Zucchini
Using a brief video featuring a mouse and a zucchini on a kitchen counter, students will consider the issue of perspective and discover and think about the perspectives of other people and of nonhuman animals.

7. For grades 5-8: Alien in the Ethical Universe
Participants receive a visit from a traveling alien on a fact-finding mission to learn how beings treat other beings on Earth. Answering the alien’s questions reveals the inconsistencies in how our society encourages us to treat others and encourages students to think critically about our choices.

8. For grades 5 and up: Whom Do You Pet & Whom Do You Eat?
What are our relationships with different kinds of animals, and why do those relationships exist? Lead students in an activity which explores why we treat different types of animals differently, and how we can learn to view them with different eyes.

9. For grades 6 and up: A Moment in Your Shoes
How will students feel spending a moment in the shoes of a battery hen or a child slave? Use this lively and thought- provoking activity to introduce human and animal issues and the connections between them.

10. For grades 8-12: Natural Value
Students reflect on an image that captures natural beauty and the intrinsic value that nature has in order to consider their own roles in protecting nature and to help nurture their sense of wonder. (As an alternative, students can do this activity focusing on an individual animal.)

11. For grades 9 and up: More Than a Label
This activity inspires students to think about their own areas of bigotry, to identify how we develop our attitudes about others, and empowers them to take action to reduce bigotry in their own lives and in society.

Most of IHE’s activities and lesson plans have an element of considering others’ perspectives. Find more IHE lesson plans in our online Resource Center (filter the “types” for “activities/lesson plans”).

For more ideas and resources to help your students cultivate their compassion, empathy, and other ethical values, see our curated Pinterest board.