Theme: Identifying Feelings, Empathy, Understanding those with limitations, Sympathy vs. Empathy, Empathetic Responses
Recommended Ages: 4th grade +
Goals: To develop an awareness of the daily struggles encountered by those with limitations.
Identify the difference between showing someone empathy vs. sympathy.
Learn how to articulate an empathetic response.
Copy of poem “Nine Gold Medals” (below)
Cotton balls, or noise canceling headphones
List of Disability Stations (below)
Description: This activity is designed to help students develop empathy. It begins with reading a short poem, “Nine Gold Medals.” (below). The poem is about a Special Olympics race, where one of the athletes tumbles and falls, crushing his dreams of being a medalist. Knowing what it must feel like to have those dreams crushed, the other Olympians stop the race, turn around, and help the fallen Olympian finish the race. In a collective effort, they all cross the finish line at the same time, ending in Nine Gold Medals instead of one.
Nine Gold Medals (By David Roth)
The athletes had come from all over the country
To run for the gold, for the silver and bronze
Many weeks and months of training
All coming down to these games
The spectators gathered around the old field
To cheer on all the young women and men
The final event of the day was approaching
Excitement grew high to begin
The blocks were all lined up for those who would use them
The hundred yard dash was the race to be run
There were nine resolved athletes in back of the starting line
Poised for the sound of the gun
The signal was given,
The pistol exploded
And so did the runners all charging ahead
But the smallest among them, he stumbled and staggered
And fell to the asphalt instead
He gave out a cry of frustration and anguish
His dreams and his efforts all dashed in the dirt
But as sure as I’m standing here telling this story
The same goes for what next occurred
The eight other runners
Pulled up their heels
The ones who had trained for so long to compete
One by one they all turned around and went back to help him
And brought the young boy to his feet
Then all the nine runners
Joined hands and continued
The hundred yard dash now reduced to a walk
And a banner above that said, “Special Olympics”
Could not have been more on the mark
That’s how the race ended, with nine gold medals
They came to the finish line holding hands still
And a standing ovation and nine beaming faces
Said more than these words ever will
After the poem is read a discussion takes place. Topics that get discussed include learning how to ask questions, listening to the other person, and expressing oneself appropriately. One way to strengthen empathetic response is by sharing similar experiences with someone. After the discussion participants are asked to participate in the Disability Stations (see below).
Discussion: In order to truly support someone, we need to empathize and understand them. No two people are alike, and everyone’s situation is different. When we experience someone having a difficult time we often feel sympathy for that person. However, what most people need is empathy. The majority of people do not want to be pitied, or felt sorry for, they simply want understanding. They want others to be genuine with them, and take time to fully comprehend their situation. The disability stations help participants experience some of the things others struggle with. For example, participants will experience manual dexterity difficulties by placing gloves on their hands and trying to perform a simple task such as writing. Blindfolds are used to help understand the difficulty associated with engaging in activities without being about to visually respond to them. Hearing loss is experienced through the utilization of cotton balls and/or noise cancelation headphones. Articulation challenges can be demonstrated by not being able to move the tongue while talking. These stations in no way give participants the right to think they fully understand how someone with these limitation feels, but an appreciation and empathy can be fostered.
Disability Awareness Stations
Station #1: Articulation
Station #2: Manual Dexterity
Station #3: Non-verbal Communication
Station #4: Hearing Loss
Station #5: Blindness
Thanks again to Brandon for another great idea!