We have been experimenting with activities that can bring out empathy in our little kid, who’s currently 3 years old. Our latest activity was lunchtime interview session with a spatula. We wanted to have some lightweight design process, in which our child adopted a sense of curiosity about someone else, and was able to do a back and forth interview with them.
We realized that in our day today, our child asks a lot of why questions about how the world works, but doesn’t actually asked that many people about themselves or where they came from. We wanted to encourage him to realize that people have complicated backstories, and that it can be a lot of fun to ask them about their stories, what they do, and what they care about.
We brought a prop in, a spatula that served as our microphone. We modeled what an interview would look like, with one of us ask me a question, and then pointing a spatula at the other person to give their answer.
Our challenge to our kid: interview your uncle about where he grew up, what he likes, and his favorite jokes. We practiced with adults in front of him first, so he got a sense of what a question was, and what the rhythm of questions and answers would be like.
Our child struggled to come up with questions on his own. Instead he used the spatula microphone to say his usual telephone words, like hello and goodbye. So we had to feed him some questions, and encourage him to use more ‘why’ questions or ‘what’s your favorite’ questions.
As the uncle gave responses back, we pointed out what other questions you could ask. Like, how do you make that favorite food? Or what does that song sound like? Trying to model what follow-up questions would be.
Our child was also saying that he was shy, even though he knew everybody well. So we built him a little studio, with magazines that would save him from having to make eye contact with his interviewee. That helped him get over the shyness hump when he was asking his questions.
After we got through a few questions, we talked more with our child about why it’s good to talk to someone like this. We explained that it’s good to be curious about other people, and to ask them about what they think, feel, and do. We tried to relate it to his curiosity with how machines work, and said that it’s also good to be curious about other people and to see things from their perspective.
This activity is definitely one that needs to be repeated to build the skills and learning outcomes that we want to get. The first time can help set the rhythm and the script of the interview activity, but the child needs to build some more comfort in asking questions of other people about themselves. It’s not something they normally do, so we have to figure out ways to make them comfortable and able to improvise.