Can your children see the world from the point of view of a dog, cat or other animal? Would they more easily experience empathy and compassion if they could?
A new app designed to take young readers into an animals-eye view of the world while getting and keeping their attention is designed to help children develop empathy, critical thinking, and perspective-taking at home and in the classroom. It’s part of the RedRover Readers program, and we recently spoke with its president and CEO, Nicole Forsyth.
“We already have a program where we train teachers and use printed books and discussion guides to lead children in the classroom, using the example of a human-animal relationship,” she said. “Children of 8-9 years are our primary targets, as that’s when they’re just learning how to take another person or animal’s perspective, and that it can be different from theirs.
“If we can get them at that point, and get them to understand that animals have their own feelings and they’re different than they’re own, it’s a fantastic way to prevent cruelty, neglect and abuse of animals.”
Forsyth explained that the program isn’t just designed to change attitudes, as many educational programs are. It’s designed to increase empathy. “People often don’t really fully understand what empathy is,” she said. “It’s a complicated emotional state, clearly defined as getting people to literally share an emotional state — to feel it with them. Children who engage with our story learn to identify a dog as sad, and say what makes them sad, to feel a bit of what the dog feels.”
The program is in schools, and also available as an app downloadable free from the iTunes app store and Google Play as a graphic-novel style game called “The Restricted Adventures of Raja.” The story can be read in either English or Spanish.
“We chose a graphic novel so it would be visually impactful,” Forsyth said. “Raja is a human-like cat from another world and is stuck with a cat body on Earth. When you go through the graphic novel, even kids who don’t like to read find it engaging. It’s even designed for boys who may not like cats — we wanted to make cats cool!”
As children read, questions pop up prompting them to understand their own emotions and the animal’s emotions, along with fun facts about cats, including information on how a frightened cat looks. It’s intended to be read with a parent or educator, but can be enjoyed by the child alone as well.
The story is coupled with a game called Animal Watch, where a child can choose to be the girl or boy from the book. As they try to get home, they come across animals, and have to decide what they’d do if they found an animal like that in real life. They’re asked to consider if the animal is happy, sad, angry, playful, and what they would do based on how the animal looks.
For more information, view the video below or visit www.RedRover.org/e-book.