Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth and have long been admired and studied for their dexterous trunks, intelligence, complex emotions, playfulness and compassion. What could be a more majestic and empathic creature to emulate—and protect! World Elephant Day was established to mobilize people to support organizations that work to protect elephants and their habitats. As part of our August Activity Calendar and in honor of World Elephant Day on August 12th, we share some fun ways kids can play like an elephant for a day.
If you do not yet have your free copy of the August Activity Calendar, get it here.
Learn about elephants: Watch a video from National Geographic Kids about African elephants or read fun facts about Asian elephants. Read a book featuring elephants or facts about these amazing creatures. Or, watch this video read aloud of one of our favorite friendship-themed stories from our Empathy season curriculum that features a lovable elephant—Should I Share My Ice Cream by Mo Willems.
Move and communicate like an elephant: Elephants make a variety of sounds to communicate with each other, including trumpets, small chirping noises in their throats and deep rumbling noises that are so low that human ears cannot detect them. Elephants also communicate by stomping their feet, creating vibrations in the ground that can be felt by other elephants far away. Try having a “conversation” with your child using only stomps, grumbles and trumpets. Take turns stomping while the other person feels for vibrations in the ground.
Play in the water (or mud)! Elephants are often observed playing in the water and use their trunks to spray themselves and cool themselves off. Mud baths are also one of the elephant’s favorite ways to cool off in the heat. Turn on the hose or bring a container of water outside, make some cooling mud and splash away like an elephant!
Make an elephant trunk: Elephants use their trunks to lift food to their mouths, to drink and cool themselves off with water, and to connect with other elephants through touch. To make your own elephant trunk, place one or both hands and arms into a long sock. Practice waving your trunk as you stomp and trumpet like an elephant. Try to pick up objects with your trunk. Give family members an elephant hug with your trunk.
Play elephant games: Try out some of these fun ways to play like an elephant:
Elephant guessing game: Wonder aloud how elephants can feel things when they don't have fingers. Place a few objects in an opaque container or cardboard box with a hole cut out of one side. Invite kids to use their sock trunk to feel inside and guess the hidden objects. Kids can fill the container with objects for you to guess, too.
Pass the peanut: Choose an object from nature to be your pretend peanut. While wearing sock trunks, invite family members or friends to sit in a circle and pass the object from person to person until it comes back to the start. For an extra challenge, use a timer to see how long it takes for the “peanut” to go around the circle. Then, try to beat your best time.
Paint like an Elephant: How would an elephant use their trunk to paint a picture? Offer kids some paper and invite kids to hold a paintbrush or marker in their sock trunk as they channel their inner elephant artist.
Learn about elephant conservation efforts: Learn about organizations like Save the Elephants that work to help humans see the world from the elephant’s point of view and take action to protect these majestic creatures. You can also check out this list from the American Human Society with 10 ways you can support animals near you.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Pretending to be an elephant is a super way to help kids take on the perspective of another creature, a key component of empathy and a critical step towards becoming an animal ally and a steward of our planet.
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Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!