A Compassionate Curriculum Utilizing a Guinea Pig to Help Students Develop Empathy, Responsibility, and Positive Social Interactions
The author of this study developed the compassionate curriculum entitled “From Your Heart to My Heart” as a project to help educators assist all students with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder to learn, collaborate, and grow together. The design behind the curriculum centers upon modeling and teaching social skills; specifically: Kindness, Responsibility, and Social Interaction. The vehicle through which this curriculum is taught is the presence of a small classroom animal, namely a guinea pig. The curriculum offers various visualization exercises, collaborative activities, games, and both guided and independent practice for students to learn these skills through handling the guinea pig. Assessment opportunities are illustrated and embedded in the curriculum. The activities are specifically designed for educators to use in any setting whether inclusive, mainstream or specialized instruction. The explicit goal of the curriculum is for the students to learn and generalize the skills which reflect a compassionate, responsible and socially positive attitude through the incorporation and care of a classroom guinea pig. Part of the curriculum allows for students to each experience the opportunity to take the guinea pig home on the weekend, and to be responsible for its care and needs. The curriculum incorporates literature, whole group discussion, instructional videos, both in-class and digital games, and direct contact with the guinea pig to model for students how their own human needs are similar to the fundamental needs of guinea pigs.. The goal of “From Your Heart to My Heart” is to encourage all students to become thoughtful, empathetic, and responsible individuals, as well as to be able to transfer these skills into relationships at school, at home, in social situations, and through life.