One day, Raul Gutierrez asked his son what he had done in school that day. The boy showed his father a map that he had created in class, but it wasn’t just any map; this was a map of the boy’s heart. His very insightful and compassionate teacher had asked her students to draw a heart and divide it into the things that they loved. Now, there’s a very good chance that this is where this story would end, but Raul Gutierrez isn’t just any father; he’s the founder and CEO of TinyBop, a software development firm that specializes in educational apps for kids.
Inspired by his son’s heart map, Gutierrez and his team created the “Me” app. Although not the only thing this app can do, one of the things it does is encourage kids to explore their emotional states. Through a series of prompts they learn to confront their fears and explore what they feel about their friends, their families and their schools. All this in an interactive, fun and safe way to learn about themselves. It is believed that the better we understand ourselves, the more compassionate we become.
Now, this is where I come in, because when I was sent this article, it seemed so timely for “Me.” I had just lost my dear sweet dog, aptly named, Buddy, who had suffered for 9 years with a serious and incurable genetic disease. I had been his sole caretaker for the most part, and he required so much time and so many medications that while losing him gave me back time and money it left a huge “hole” in my heart.
I said to myself, “self, why not draw your own heart and then you can even cut out a hole where Buddy used to be,” and so I did just that! It did not seem quite right though because my memories of Buddy were still there and I felt that Buddy taught me a great deal about myself so I could not leave the hole open and exposed. So all is not sad, because in drawing my own heart I realized that it is okay to be sad and okay to cry when you lose something or someone you love.
Buddy taught me so much about compassion and caring for someone other than myself, and that all things are not perfect, nor will they ever be. He taught me tolerance and patience and empathy and a more accepting way of looking at people and things, softening my view of the world. In drawing my heart, I discovered that my other dog has a big place there too, right next to where Buddy's memory is and that taught me how to experience gratitude for what I do have.
One of the reasons we have chickens and rabbits in the EDU-Garden is to teach and encourage compassion and the responsibility that comes with loving something. When kids come to understand that our animals are solely dependent upon them, just like Buddy was to me, for their very lives, it does conjure up empathy and compassion. I see evidence daily in the garden as our kids deal with lost bunnies and chickens and they are helping me with the loss of Buddy.
The garden is all about teaching the kids, although that doesn’t mean that it’s always about strict academics. Though that’s certainly important, so are the important life lessons about knowing and liking themselves, about compassion for others and about having an awareness of what goes on around them; research tells us that fulfillment of these emotional needs is basic and foundational to all learning. We firmly believe that what we need at home, at school, in our communities and in our world is more empathy and compassion. Bullying and intolerance could be eliminated!
So do we need an app to teach compassion? Maybe. It’s available for iPad and iPhone, on the App Store. If you ask your children to draw their own hearts, you may be both surprised and encouraged by what you find there.