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Fostering empathy through arts engagement

Posted by Hiromi Tango

Thank-you to all of the young artists who have worked with me over recent weeks in Derby. Wednesday’s visit to the District High School was very successful, with about 200 students from five classes participating. Recently we have also enjoyed regular workshops with the Youth Centre, along with the workshops with Joeys and Cubs Scouts, Derby playgroup and the School Community House Onyon playgroup.

Hiromi's visit to the Derby District High School where she held workshops for more than 200 childrenHiromi's visit to the Derby District High School where she held workshops for more than 200 children

I would like to extend a big thank you to the Emama Nguda Aboriginal Corporation, Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre, Mobile playgroup, and Norval Gallery for your effort to support the project warmly, and the many individuals actively promoting the FIVE Derby project and connecting us with the local community members.

The success of the Lizard tail project in Derby is the strong community connections between individuals and organisations. I regard Derby as one of the most strong connections between individuals and different community groups, which is refreshing to see.

I would like to focus on how I designed the workshop for the Derby District School as an example of catering for each specific age group. The early year coordinator Caroline Cleal and I had a meeting a day prior to the workshops, where we decided to work on circle face cards as a means of expressing emotions and showing empathy, which they are learning from age 4–10 years. A similar process was conducted at each organisation visit, where I have developed participant specific workshops.  

In each workshop, we talked about ways of expressing feelings in a safe environment, and discussed some productive ways to express emotions. For example, pre-school to year 4 students are all taught how to express emotions by using four circle face cards: 'Happy, Sad, Angry and Worried', so the Lizard Tail workshop was designed to use symbols the children are already familiar with, such as hearts for love, or stars for energy, when your friends or family need support. The group had some fantastic discussion about ways you can always ask gently "How are you feeling? Are you OK?" if your friends or family seem to need a love heart or energy star. 

Then each artist made small lizard tails that we connected to the bigger lizard tail created during each class. We talked about all of the magical lizard eggs that have hatched into baby lizards! We did a lizard dance together, with 60 Kindergarten and Pre-Primary students in the final class as celebration of the achievement of the day!

In this playful environment, we learned about how supporting your friends and family through art can be beneficial. Sometimes talking about feelings may be difficult, so using gestures, body language and symbols is another way to express caring for your friends and family. 

The children demonstrated their amazing ability to empathise with those around them. Research shows that even very young children begin to feel empathy, and typically the capacity to understand how others might be feeling grows as they mature. Many neuroscientists have propose that mirror neurons play an important role in our capacity for empathy. I am fascinated by this area, particularly how the use of visual symbols can help stimulate emotional responses, particularly for young children, and both children and adults experiencing specific challenges with recognising and interpreting the emotions of others.

Next week is the final week of the workshops, and we are planning to work with the school holiday junior program at the Youth Centre from 30 September to 2 October, and regular visits to the Youth Centre on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The West Kimberley Regional Prison visit is on Friday, then we will finish with the final workshops at the CWA Market on 4 October from 8am to 12 noon. The Lizard Tail Art Magic workshop at the nursing home will be held by Alysia Hickling next Thursday. I am just so grateful for the positive and active support driven by the community facilitators and the members. 

Together, we are growing healthy Lizard tails.

One more week to go!



Comments (2)

mimi lizard

Thanks so much for your warm support, Jo. I am so touched by the everyone's energetic contributions. It will be a great giant tail which reflects unique Derby.


Congratulations Hiromi on your awesome work and engagement with the Derby Community. Looking forward to seeing the end product!

Let's hear your voice

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