Friday, August 29, 2014

Teaching Empathy with Consistency

By: Emily Ostrowski

 What do Sesame Street and Y’s Care have in common? If you attend YWCA’s annual Inspire Luncheon on Wednesday, September 10th you’ll be sure to find out! Sonia Manzano, best known as Maria from Sesame Street, will be joining us to share her ongoing message of empowering and educating children.

 This message resonates with YWCA’s own children’s program Y’s Care, which seeks to provide homeless, transitioning, and low-income children with the necessary skills to enter kindergarten. Leah Reitz has been the director of Y’s Care for the past three years, and was a lead teacher in the program for several years prior. She has nothing but praise for the ways in which Sesame Street helps children grapple with various aspects of life.

Lea Reitz with Y's Care pupil.
 “Sesame Street has always been a program that demonstrates inclusiveness and respect for everyone,” Reitz says. “I think it has been an incredible tool for families, presented with humor and compassion. Their ‘whole child’ approach certainly lines up with the Y’s Care mission. I have always appreciated that the show often deals with difficult subjects like death and having a parent serving in the military. These are tough subjects, but when my children were young, I often found myself using an episode as a jumping off point for conversations.”

 Indeed, the ability to empathize and recognize emotions is at the core of both Sesame Street’s and Y’s Care’s missions. Reitz acknowledges that many preschool programs want to jump right in to skills like learning the alphabet and being able to write their name, but she emphasizes that without the proper emotional tools, success is unlikely. “If a child has trouble identifying and understanding his own emotions and the emotions of others, those other skills won’t matter, because if you can’t successfully navigate your social world you don’t see yourself as competent.”

 One of Reitz’s favorite activities at Y’s Care is a year-long program called Seeds of Empathy, which “helps kids identify and label emotions through books and literacy activities.” Additionally they have regular visits from the same parent and baby every three weeks to discuss, among other things what the baby might be feeling, and what it’s like being a parent, particularly the more frustrating aspects. All of this is done with the goal of teaching children how to see things from another’s perspective. 

The heart of Y’s Care is rooted in children’s emotional well-being. Academics are important, but without a solid, emotional foundation, no child can fully thrive. As Reitz notes, “Many kids come to our program having experienced trauma of one kind or another, so our initial challenges are often behavioral. When a child feels secure at school and trusts his or her teachers, learning follows.”

 To hear Sonia Manzano speak, as well as support Y’s Care, YWCA’s other programs, and general mission, please click here and register for our luncheon Wednesday, September 10th at the Hilton in Vancouver.

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