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Building Empathy for Immigrants through the "Where in the World?" Game


Building Empathy for Immigrants through the "Where in the World?" Game

Debra Jacobs

While we watch in horror as asylum seekers face tear gas and family separation at the border, our children sometimes display the in-group/out-group behavior and fear of strangers that leads to xenophobia. Preschoolers delight us with their ability to quickly strike up new friendships at the playground, but they can also exclude or feel apprehensive about those from outside of their culture.

Scientists believe that evolution has encoded this fear of the stranger into our genes, yet our “small group thinking” clashes with the global realities of today’s world. We need to train ourselves (and our children) to see all people as members of the human family, in order to welcome rather than revile the newcomers in our communities.

One way to begin this process toward empathy and familiarity with people from other countries is to play the Where in the World? game.

If you have a large paper map, you can use a toy car to play the game.

If you have a large paper map, you can use a toy car to play the game.

Globes work best for this game, but if you don’t have one you can use a paper map of the world or even a map on a computer screen. Spin the globe, then have your child close her eyes and touch it at a random spot. If you’re using paper or a computer, blindfold your child and play the game like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Wherever your child’s finger lands, pretend you are visiting that country. In our preschool, we talk about the weather and what kind of clothes we’ll need to pack. We even pretend to get on the airplane and buckle ourselves in. Once we “arrive,” we meet people and go on adventures - perhaps a hike through the rain forest or climbing a mountain or studying wild life.

Google the country to find pictures of the kinds of houses people live in there, and what the cities and countryside look like. Go to and search for how to say some simple words in the country’s dominant languages. For example, here’s how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in Swahili.

In addition to exploring the positive aspects of each country, don’t shy away from talking about challenges people face when your child lands on a place experiencing conflict or widespread poverty. Let your child know that many people are trying to leave that country because of danger from fighting or lack of jobs and resources. They are trying to come to the United States and other countries, but some people are afraid of them and don’t want to let them in. Let your child know what you and others are doing to help migrants (contributing money, calling lawmakers, protesting, etc.).

Have fun and let me know how it goes!