Developing Empathy in Children Through Gardening

Empathy is an emotion that not every person or child possesses. A sign of ‘emotional intelligence’, as educators at Kingston High we believe that children are born with it. As they grow and are exposed to external influences - the actions and words of parents, family and peers - empathy gradually diminishes and children succumb to mimicking the actions of those around them. A lack of empathy varies according to the degree of emotional intelligence children exhibit. The behavioural changes may be as simple as ignoring picking up something that has fallen on the ground, to avoiding other kids based on their skin color, bullying and threatening behaviour if something isn’t received immediately. 
While children are too small to grasp what empathy means and to practice it, it is the onus of parents and educators to ensure that they learn this very important emotion that will shape their personality in the long term.
As adults, every aspect of our lives needs empathy. Whether we are are taking care of ageing parents or a colleague at work who’s having a very rough week, empathy helps develop and nurture relationships and place other’s needs before our own.


HOW CAN EMPATHY BE DEVELOPED

Empathy isn’t something that can be taught or learned, especially in children. It is shown by action, by engaging kids in activities that they can learn from. It is also by allowing children to understand life as it is, develop patience, see what others go through, be kind and generous and most importantly develop trust in people.
Among the various activities that can be used to develop empathy, gardening is one such that has a slow, subtle yet large impact. Gardening is all about growing and nurturing plants. There is no compulsion to do it. Plants don’t speak. Therefore, the urge to look after plants has to come from the kids themselves. Gardening is also an activity that can be incorporated anytime and anywhere. A majority of pre-schools in Bangalore adopt it, but Kingston High believes that gardening can become a lifelong activity. 

3 WAYS GARDENING HELPS DEVELOP EMPATHY

Gardening makes children more nurturing - Naturally open, giving and good listeners, empaths nurture relationships and people. They understand even without words what people go through. 
When children practice gardening and looking after plants, it seems as if all that they do is learn to water them and place seeds in mud. What subtly happens, is that children are learning the crucial art of nurturing a life form, without any expectation from that life itself. This when done consistently becomes a part of their natural behaviour over time. 
Gardening gives children a strong intuition -  Empaths exhibit a strong sensitivity towards others and this can be developed in children at a very early age. A strong intuition is an individual’s inner protection, that they can use to make judgement calls whenever need arises. Research has proved that people with strong intuitions make sound personal and work decisions.
Gardening as a practice is a great way for children to develop strong intuition. By nurturing a plant, watching it grow from a seedling, doing this repeatedly with other plants, children get an intuitive sense of understanding of when it will flower, intervals of time when manure needs to be added and how too much nurture can even cause it to die. 
Gardening gives children hope and positivity - Describing empathy also means understand that such children are constantly looking at the brighter side of things. Ups and downs, positives and negatives are a part of life. However the ability to bounce out of a particularly negative spell - failed exams, loss of hope and self blame - lies with only a few. Children who are positive try and look for hope in the bleakest of situations and this stays with them for life.
Gardening is about growth. It is about watching a life emerge from the seed, absorb water and nutrients, grow and yield fruits and vegetables. This practice is about positivity, about hope, about watching a seed push through barriers to become a plant. Children learn by watching, and this lesson when imbibed in school or home, although imbibed subtly makes for a longer impact.
Gardening is one of the core extra-curricular activities provided by schools, and Kingston High, one of the top ICSE schools in Bangalore makes this a high priority exercise for children. Given that today’s children have to be well equipped practically besides theoretically, children are taken through the entire physical exercise of growing their own plants. Every child is given a small gardening patch, where they can plan a seed, water it, see it grow, weed the patch and ultimately enjoy the fruits of their labor, whether a fruit or flower. 
At Kingston High, located close to Manyata Tech Park the vegetables and fruits grown are seasonal and also tied to lessons the children learn in class. They learn to look after the sapling and take it home thereafter. Combining gardening in practice with classroom studies goes a long way in ensuring that children don’t just become good students but also develop the emotional intelligence that will hold them in good stead as they grow.

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