Activity time: 15 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Copy of Leader Resource 1, Empathy Scenarios
- Five pairs of paper shoes
- A bell, chime, or other sound instrument
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
Preparation for Activity
- Use Leader Resource 2, Shoe Template or trace your own shoes to make a template to draw and cut out five pairs of paper shoes.
- Download and print out Leader Resource, Empathy Scenarios. Add your own ideas for scenarios that can form the basis for a role play to help the children explore empathy. See a list of children's stories that may inspire additional scenarios, in the Leader Resources section.
- Take time to think about the ways the children in the group may respond to these scenarios. Some may have experienced these situations as a victim or target, which could bring up sensitive feelings. Others may have been in a bullying or bystander role. This activity must be voluntary. Make sure the children should know that if they start to feel uncomfortable in any of the roles they can ask to sit down.
Description of Activity
Gather the children in a circle. Show them the pairs of paper shoes. Place pairs of shoes as you want them for the first scenario you plan to do. Say:
This game is about the expression, "If you could stand in my shoes." What do you think that means?
Some children may know the expression. Affirm correct answers. Then tell the group:
The expression doesn't really mean we need to try on other people's shoes to find out how it feels to be them. It does mean that if you can imagine how it feels to be someone else in a particular situation, you can understand the situation better. In this game, we are going to stand in the shoes of some other people, and see if it helps us imagine how those people might feel.
I am going to describe a pretend situation now. I will need some volunteers to stand in the shoes of the characters in the story.
Invite the correct number of volunteers to stand in the center with you. Some of the scenarios include directions for staging with chairs or the paper shoes; have volunteers help you move items, as needed. Assign roles, and read a scenario from Leader Resource, Empathy Scenarios, or one you have added. When you have finished, invite some or all of the volunteers to describe what they think the character they are standing in for would feel, need or want.
You might ask two of the children to "switch shoes" and consider the situation from another character's perspective. Then invite new volunteers to stand in the shoes and express what they feel and think.
After the children have had a chance to share their thoughts and feelings, invite them to sit again. Ask the group:
- If you were observing this scene at school or in your neighborhood, how could you show caring and goodness? How could you help?
- What would have to happen so that you felt safe enough to do what you wanted to do?
If there are two or more adults in the room, one of you can write on the newsprint the feelings that the children are expressing. To close the activity, you might go over this list of feelings to reinforce the experience.
The goal of this activity is to help the children to see how any situation can have multiple perspectives, and that our feelings toward someone and his/her situation can change when we take the time to step into their shoes. Another goal is for the children to experience that when they take the time to know what another person might be feeling and needing, they are more likely and better able to care about their needs and feelings, to treat them with greater respect, and to act on their behalf.
Including All Participants
This activity requires sensitivity and close monitoring. There may be children in the group who have been in the shoes of the target, or have been treated unfairly. Others may recognize that they have been in other roles portrayed in the scenarios. Stepping into the shoes of any character must be voluntary. If a child becomes uncomfortable, allow them to step out.
If children cannot take the exercise seriously or participate respectfully, ask them to sit away from the activity until it is finished.
A child in a wheelchair can position themselves at the spot marked by a pair of paper shoes.