Colors of Empathy program helping children's emotional health

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by CAM JOHNSON / NWCN News Anchor

Bio | Email | Follow: @camjohnson1

KING5.com

Posted on October 26, 2009 at 9:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 9:50 AM

Children in the “blue room” at the Stroum Jewish Community Center feel anything but blue. They're participating in a new program that aims at helping young children develop emotional health and empathy. Of course, the kids have no idea about the concept behind the program. They laugh and race between a big pile of blue ribbons, over to a blue water table surrounded by blue walls, tinted windows and swags. The room is part of the Colors of Empathy created at the community center for early childhood learning. Children are immersed in a room of a given color and then make a collage using the same color. Teachers ask students questions about the subject in their collage, and what they say is often times very revealing, according to educators involved. The idea is to help young children connect with their feelings and eventually try to understand the feelings of others. “We decided on color because it’s very tangible to children. Children already have a relationship with color,” said teacher Sarah Adams. Teachers use that relationship to help children talk about feelings. Young children often have a difficult time identifying and verbally expressing their own feelings. But teachers have found that it is much easier for a child to express in “third person.” A little girl who was introduced to Colors of Empathy last school year, helped teachers see the program’s potential. After experiencing the “red room,” Ava Schwartz made a collage of a rose. Her teachers asked how her rose was feeling. “My rose is sad, because other flowers are teasing her and the other flowers are all daisies,” said Schwartz. At the time that Schwartz made the collage, she had recently moved to the Seattle area. She was the newest child to the kindergarten class, and she was also the youngest. Ava felt extremely insecure. But no one, not her teachers, not even her mother, had any idea what Ava was feeling at the time. When they saw her rose, they finally understood. “It was a very interesting experience,” Ava’s mother Heather Schwartz said. “I never would have guessed that it would help me to understand my own child.” As a result, Ava has gotten a little extra support at home and school and is now “in the pink” again. The larger hope is that children, like Ava, who get in touch with their own emotions, will go on to be a little more sensitive to other peoples’ feelings. It could come in handy any time another student looks like they’re feeling blue.

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