Kindergarten Learns About Empathy & New Shoes

  • Academics
Brita Gaeddert & Abbey Gottinger

This blog is part of a series focused on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI/DEI) and how they show up in our classrooms at Aspen Academy. 


Brita Gaeddert: First we’ll look at the overall vision for DEI work and how it shows up in your kindergarten classes and for students. Can you describe that?

Abbey Gottinger: In Kindergarten, it's less of a formal thing with formal lessons, but rather a lot of conversations that we have around how we view others, how we treat others, and how our words and actions can affect other people. Then, we also explore who we are and how we are different from other people or the same as other people. We have a lot of conversations around what is fair and what is good behavior and how we treat others.


Brita Gaeddert: Looking more concretely at a recent lesson or any examples you might have, how does DEI get incorporated in the classroom and what were the learning objectives?

Abbey Gottinger: The most recent lesson that I did was during social studies, and we were learning about laws and what laws are. I read a book called New Shoes. The book is about a little girl, a Black girl who lived in the South during the time of Jim Crow laws (laws that enforced racial segregation in the U.S. South from the end of Reconstruction to the mid-20th century) . She goes to a shoe store, and she knows she was treated differently than the White girl. I read the story, and we just talked about what is and what is not fair and how sometimes the laws are not fair. And, if laws are not fair, then we have the power to change those laws, or to speak about why we think they're unfair. I kept it very basic asking: “Is that fair or not fair?”. That's a concept that kids can understand at a very young age, and I think it's good to start to teach them that if you think something's not fair, you can do something about it and you can speak up.


Brita Gaeddert: Was there anything that surprised you about the ways students responded to the lesson or the sharing that came out of it?

Abbey Gottinger: It wasn’t a surprise, per se, but it was really cool how I had one student say “Well that's not fair.” He got really mad about it, observing that [the character] shouldn’t be treated differently. It was really cool to see him empathizing with the character and advocating on her behalf. Then we had a discussion extending it to ideas such as eye color or different hair colors or if you were wearing a different color shirt to help kids see it all around them. They really got it, and they were very aware saying “no, everyone should be treated the same.” It was beautiful.


Brita Gaeddert: Your role requires a lot this year. Why do you choose to make time for this kind of work and make DEI a priority?

Abbey Gottinger: I think it's so important, from a young age, to be able to understand that the world doesn't revolve around you; and there are other people in the world that have feelings and have thoughts, and that sometimes something that's really good for you, or makes you feel really good, makes someone else feel really sad. From an early age, it's important to learn how to empathize with others and to know that not everything is fair, and we have a part to play in that. Just setting that foundation is important.


Brita Gaeddert: Anything you want to share from the perspective of a teacher or for parents?

One really important thing to note is that in all the lessons that we do, we are very conscious of making sure it's age appropriate and not jumping in too much, too early. For example in the kindergarten level, we kept it to the simple concept of “is this fair or not fair?”. We didn't dive deep into discrimination and racism since we're being really careful and just introduce the overall DEI concepts in a way that they can understand. Then we can build upon them. That’s important to note, especially for parents who might be concerned about the things we're teaching. Our one rule at Aspen Academy is: Be Kind. These lessons start with the fundamentals of understanding what embodies kindness.


For more on DEI work in Lower School, read Dana Kohls' recent interview here.

About the Author

Abbey Gottinger, Kindergarten Instructor, Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach

Abbey holds a bachelor's degree in Linguistics and German as well as a Master's in Elementary Education (K-6). Prior to coming to Aspen Academy, she worked as a resource teacher and reading specialist in the United States and abroad. She was drawn to Aspen Academy's emphasis on developing character and leadership in children. In her free time she is usually lifting weights, running, and hiking. She also loves learning foreign languages and experiencing new countries and cultures.