Stage 1 topics 2019

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Topic 1: Empathy

This topic aims to foster children’s developing capacity to empathise and to encourage students to think for themselves about the process of empathising. Students are encouraged to:

  • Identify their own feelings

    Paddy and Nessie both like some if the same things but are scared by different things.

  • Recognise the kinds of situations that invoke in them particular kinds of feelings
  • Recognise the kinds of body/face language and behaviours that tend to accompany these feelings
  • Imagine how other people (or other animals) would feel in particular situations; and
  • Engage in the kinds of reasoning which underlie the processes described above.

Imagination plays a big role in empathy, as we need to imagine how others feel. In this topic we meet Jack (6), and his big brother Gus (9). They like playing lots of games together, but sometimes Jack gets a bit fed-up when he and Gus play cricket. The children listen to the story and try to figure out why that might be.

We also meet the family dogs, two border collies called Paddy and Nessie. The dogs both like some of the same things, but are scared of different things – just like Gus and Jack. Gus is scared of the dark and Jack is not; Jack is afraid of heights while Gus loves climbing. Would Jack be able to understand how Gus feels when his night-light suddenly goes out? And would Gus be able to imagine how Jack feels when he climbs a tree? Children think about these questions and discuss them and are encouraged to give reasons for their views.


This topic includes a warm up game called ‘Spot the Change’. You might like to play it with your children too.

Instructions: “I want you to look at me very carefully and to notice as many details as you can about the way I look.” (Give your child 30 seconds to do this). “Now turn around so that you cannot see me.” (Once you are sure they are not watching, change something about your appearance – e.g. put on or take off your glasses, or a hat or change your hairstyle in some way. If possible make a couple of fairly obvious changes and also a more subtle one.) Then ask “Can you see anything different about me?”. Once the changes have been identified, it is time to swap, and now it’s your turn to guess.


Watch the Importance of Empathy (3 min 30 sec)

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Topic 2: Being similar and being different 

Being able to detect similarities and differences between things underlies our capacity to make distinctions and to form concepts.  It’s one of the most fundamental of our cognitive capacities.

For example, a toddler acquires the concept ‘dog’ by recognising similarities between the animals we point to and say ‘dog’ and differences between these animals and those to which we point and say ‘cat’. The child has an uncanny ability to focus on the particular characteristics of dogs and cats that distinguish these groups of animals from one another. They learn quickly that similarities and differences in size are irrelevant here, as are similarities and differences in colour, while similarities and differences in capabilities and ways of behaving are more relevant. But of course we sometimes make mistakes, which can lead to forming concepts based on incorrect assumptions.

lesson 2 image 9 fox

Can animals look very similar, but be very different? And can animals look very different but be very similar?

Until the late 18th century, for example, whales were classified as fish on the basis of their shared environment. Now, of course, scientists look for deeper similarities and differences by comparing genetic codes. As is well known, our ability to recognise those similarities between persons that mark them out as persons – and so as worthy of being treated as such – tends to be limited. We have a natural bias towards an ‘in-group’: our attention tends to be drawn towards surface differences between members of our ‘in-group’ and others (for example, differences in colour of skin or gender). But research shows that focusing our attention on the deeper similarities between members of the ‘out’ and ‘in’ groups helps to correct for this bias (see Further Reading, below).

One of the scenarios presented in this topic involves Tom and his cousin Noah. Noah lives on a farm and Tom, who lives in the city, likes to visit in the summer holidays.

‘I can’t wait to see the animals’, Tom says to Noah. ‘I’ve got some of my own now – a dog called Rupert – and a cat called Fluffy – and some fish.’

‘But your animals are pets’, Noah says. ‘Ours are farm animals. Farm animals are completely different from pets.’

Is Noah right? Are farm animals completely different from pets?


Ask your child to help you think of three things that you both have in common.

What about a brother, sister, parent or best friend? What are three things your child has in common with each?

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