Did you know that by 12 months old some babies demonstrate attempts to soothe people who seem distressed? Yet a survey by YouGov reported that 51% of people think empathy has declined in the UK.
When combined with strong communication skills, emotional intelligence - self-awareness, emotional control and empathy - can open up a pathway to better relationships, academic and employment success. As empathy is largely a learned trait, this is something that must be nurtured throughout childhood and it’s now falling to schools to demonstrate their students’ personal development across the whole curriculum.
We’ve worked with the RSPCA over the last year to develop an innovative new education programme. Compassionate Class, that encourages children aged 7-11 to develop compassion and empathy through the lens of animal welfare. The programme forms part of a wider prevention initiative, Generation Kind, which hopes to show people that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes.
The time young people spend at school can have a significant influence on their values, attitudes and behaviours and the relationships they develop with staff and peers are key to a happy and balanced adult life. This is why we’re bringing the RSPCA’s initiative into primary schools. Many schools are beginning to explore different ways of delivering lessons in order to place increasing emphasis on elements of the curriculum linked to social, moral, spiritual and cultural development (SMSC education).
The teaching method adopted in the Compassionate Class resources is enquiry-led or debate focused learning, nurtured in the movement ‘Philosophy for Children’. These sessions involve open group discussions about ethical or philosophical concepts that encourage questions and debate. Teachers using these techniques have reported a positive influence on pupils’ confidence to speak, listening skills, and self-esteem.
Compassionate Class resources are now live and already over 2,000 teachers have registered to access interactive activities looking at pets and wild, working and farm animals. There is also a competition open to all schools in England and Wales to find the RSPCA’s Most Compassionate Class. You can find out more about the resources at www.rspca.org.uk/ccresources.
 Martin A, Olson KR. 2012. When kids know better: paternalistic helping in 3-year-old children. Dev Psychol. 49(11):2071-81