Park Terrace students learn about empathy with CLIMB actors

CLIMB actors Peter Mol played Olin, a wise owl, while Annelise Eckelaert played Elle the elephant. The actors taught students about empathy at Park Terrace Elementary. Photo by Elyse Kaner

An elephant and an owl brought some empathetic enlightenment recently to Park Terrace Elementary School students.

CLIMB (Creative Learning Ideas for Mind and Body) Theatre actor/educators visited the classrooms of kindergarten through third-graders.

The school’s K-2 classes got a lesson on empathy, being kind to one another and reading emotional cues from the CLIMB actors in a skit titled “The Owl and the Elephant.”

The 40-minute presentation also had kids learning how to help solve problems on the playground and how to give appropriate compliments.

Third-graders participated in another production, also on empathy, called “The Pudding Blues,” a skit about a boy who spills pudding on his shirt at lunch time. The accident is met with laughs from a fellow student instead of empathy and comforting comments.

But students soon learned how to correct inappropriate responses and to put themselves in the shoes of others.

Park Terrace invited CLIMB to present on empathy as part of the school’s Peace Site designation last year.

The actors addressed two of five Peace Actions - seek peace within yourself and others, and promote inter-cultural understanding as well as celebrate diversity, Principal Kim Fehringer said.

The peace actions are big and lofty ideas, “so we look for ways to bring meaning to them in ‘student friendly’ ways,” Fehringer said. “The CLIMB theater is a perfect opportunity to do that.”

The theater company takes difficult topics and makes them meaningful and understandable for children, she said.

The skits send a positive, anti-bullying message to students, said Kate Fandrey, Park Terrace’s social worker. They realize how it feels when they are teased or laughed at.

“The kids had an opportunity to role play feelings,” Fandrey said. “It was just priceless.”

In one of the kindergarten and first-grade presentations, CLIMB actors Peter Mol, dressed as Olin the Owl and Annelise Eckelaert as Elle the Elephant, with a long gray trunk and floppy gray ears to match, had the students acting and singing out the meaning of empathy nearly from the moment of their entrance.

Elle found herself alone and tearful after her “friend” Sid the Squirrel abandoned her. She wanted to play on the slide with Sid. But Sid had other ideas. He wanted to play on the swings. They ended up doing neither together. Elle’s shoulders slumped. She frowned. She spoke in lackluster sentences as she explained her problem.

They could have played on the swings together for one minute and on the slide for one minute, a student said in a quick brainstorming session on how to solve Elle’s problem.

Or “she could have said no, thank you. I want to play on the slide,” another student offered.

Rather than perform a large group presentation in the school gymnasium, CLIMB actors, this time around, worked in classrooms, creating a more intimate setting and fostering more interaction among the students.

With the help of Olin and Elle, the Park Terrace students, dubbed by the actors as the Osmund Family of Owls, launched into a chorus singing about feelings and reading emotions:

“Use your ears and use your eyes,

A brand new friend will be your prize.”

A tip students learned from their new CLIMB friends.

A slumped posture and eyes focusing on the floor, for example, is a sign of sadness, the actors said.

“If you want to know how someone feels,

Look at them from head to heels,” they sang.

CLIMB Theatre based out of Inver Grove Heights has been providing entertaining and educational programs at K-12 schools for 38 years.

The theater company performed at Park Terrace as part of National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month.

Elyse Kaner is at

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