Empower Empathy uses the format of a simple roll & move board game as a tool for parents, or more likely teachers, to encourage children to discuss and reflect on their feelings and emotions.
The board game itself is fully cooperative. It's played on a circular dual-layer board that has tiles laid out on it, most of which have a grey and a red side. The board represents the city of Empathropolis. The 2-6 players each take a standee representing a member of the Super Squad of superheroes. They are trying to save the city from a supervillain called Goobi who emerges from the central sewer to turn grey tiles to their red side whenever he lands on them. The players need to get all the red tiles flipped to grey when all their standees have completed a circuit and got back to the starting space. That gives them a collective win. The game controls Goobi: none of the children are playing the villain!
The superhero standees will be moving around the board and whenever one of them lands on a red tile, they draw a City Watch card. This sets out a scenario that a child might typically encounter at school or in their everyday life. There's a short description in the text but, with pre-readers in mind, the scenarios are mostly clear just from the illustrations. The idea is that the teacher overseeing the game will then guide the children through a discussion of the scenario, encouraging speaking & listening skills as the children collectively examine their thoughts and feelings in response to the scenario as well as how the situation might be handled.
Of course, there's no right or wrong answer to any of the 160 scenarios: the purpose is to prompt the discussion and encourage the children to put themselves in another's shoes and see a situation from different points of view. That makes Empower Empathy ideally suited for teachers and classroom assistants working with small groups as part of PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education), particularly for younger children in primary/elementary school. It also has a clear application as a tool for special educational needs (SEN) teachers working with autistic children and those with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
For the children, the game play itself is super easy. A four-quadrant spinner decides whether it's one of the heroes or Goobi that moves: so each turn there's a 50% chance that the supervillain moves and 50% of the time it will be the heroes that get a move. A standard six-sided die determines the distance moved, with Goobi flipping to red any grey tile on which he ends his move. In what will probably be a departure from what children might expect, they don't take turns moving their standees: instead, having rolled the die, they collectively decide which standee to move. For some, that might seem frustrating or unfair - emotional responses to be discussed - but once children are familiar with how the game works, they will realise that the optimal choice will be to move standees where the die roll will take them to a red tile, which they'll then be able to flip to grey. The other tiles to go for are those that show a Power Up symbol. The 80 Power Up cards all prompt discussion of an emotion. Here tho' the players win the card. At the end of the game (ie: when all the superhero standees have completed their patrol around the city and have arrived at or passed the Start space), the players will get to flip a red tile to grey for every Power Up card they've collected. Since Goobi will probably be continuing to turn grey tiles to red after the player standees are all near the end of the circuit, it's almost certainly going to be the number of Power Up cards collected that determine whether or not the children have won against the supervillain.
Collective decision-making over which superhero standee to move may well give rise to alpha player syndrome - with one child effectively taking over and telling the others what to do. The adult supervising the game will need to look out for this and treat it as another learning opportunity to consider each other's feelings. And tho' not taking turns to move may be initially difficult for some children to accept, the decision-making over which standee to move will also help to reinforce children's counting and simple arithmetical skills. Unsurprisingly tho' it's the emotional awareness that's the key educational objective of Angel Liang and Tina Shimizu's design. Integral with the game is a teaching guide, and there's a set of emotion indicators with matching emoji-style illustrations to use as prompts and to help children to express their feelings. The emotion indicators are also used in the game if Goobi lands on the same space as a player standee. That initiates a 'face off' where other players have to act out or mimic the face that represents the emotion on a selected card. The player whose standee shares the space with Goobi has three guesses at the emotion the others are miming.
PSHE lessons are a common feature of primary and elementary school timetables. If 'Circle Time' sessions are beginning to feel routine or a teacher senses the need for more focused support on small groups of children, Tiny Sprouts' Empower Empathy offers a practical and engaging alternative.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)
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