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Caring research and ideas to develop caring learners

Article title

Caring is not magic.
It is just the consistent,
day-in and day-out, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute
tendency not to give up on anybody.


Who's responsibility is it to facilitate the development of learners who care? In a democracy where everyone is responsible for the well being of everyone, the answer, everyone, seems obvious. While many curricula include goals and outcomes for caring, the use of media and literature can play a critical role in developing and supporting caring and caring relationships, which is supported by research.

This page includes information about caring and the use of media to support it, caring research, a review of bibliotherapy (to support the use of literature to strengthen caring, not to suggest its use by those who aren't qualified therapists), sample activities for school and home supported by research.

To advocate a caring school, or to include caring in the curriculum, does not advocate for caring as a substitute for learning or a rigorous curriculum. However, a rigorous culture of learning can not be established without first establishing a risk free and caring environment. Which is created by providing an atmosphere with the value of caring embedded into all relationships.

Caring is not a program, it is not reserved for special times of the day, nor is it reserved for special people such as counselors or grief specialists. It must be modeled and taught as a way to approach self, group, community, politics, society, and care for our Earth in a sustainable manner, so it becomes internalized as a value to be used by all in our decision making and actions.

Caring research

The Lilly Endowment’s Research Program on Youth and Caring has funded research. The following information is some of their findings.

Findings summary

In summary the critical components of caring are:

  1. Personal positive self-esteem.
  2. Social involvement or interpersonal skills: communication, cooperation, negotiation, sharing, empathizing, and listening.
  3. Respect for humaneness of others.
  4. Social process skills: responsibility, adaptability, flexibility, and integrity.
  5. A positive response of those receiving the caring.

More research

To develop a strong sense of moral caring people must have:

  1. Strong perceptions of their personal capabilities.
  2. Strong perceptions that they contribute in important relationships in meaningful ways and are needed.
  3. Strong perceptions of personal power or influence over life.
  4. Strong intra personal skills to understand their personal emotions and to have self-discipline and self-control.
  5. Strong interpersonal skills to work with others and develop friendships through communication, cooperation, negotiation, sharing, empathizing, and listening.
  6. Strong process skills to be able to respond to everyday life consequences with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility, and integrity.

Caring and behavior

A story told by Kristin R. Prancer in Individual Psychologist also helps describe these ideas. Once there were two brothers who shared a farm. One brother was married and had five children. The other was not married and had no family. The one brother was thinking one night that it was surely not fair that the other brother was doing the same amount of work and equally sharing the profit. He decided that tomorrow he would offer him two-thirds. The other brother was also thinking and thought it was not fair that his brother was receiving only half the profit since he had a wife and five children for which to care. He decided that tomorrow he would offer him two-thirds. This is social interest or caring.

People who have the mistaken goal of excitement and desire to do things for a high or the fun of it, even though it may be harmful or hurtful to them self or others, have not learned caring.


A review of bibliotherapy is provided to support the use of literature to develop caring.

Bibliotherapy is the use of literature to treat mental, emotional, and nervous disorders. However, using literature to promote caring is different. Bibliotherapy should be reserved for professionals who are trained in it as a therapy. However, knowing about it can be beneficial. The following information is provided as a review.

Bodart defined bibliotherapy. (Ed 225-828)

"A process of dynamic interaction between the personality of the reader and literature-interaction which may be utilized for personality assessment, adjustment, and growth."

While not effective for all children some may begin to understand themselves better and control their psychological needs as a result of their interactions with literature.

Bodart has identified three steps that the reader goes through to benefit from a bibliotherapy process (Ed 225-828).

  1. Identification - the reader associates himself or herself with a character or situation in a book.
  2. Catharsis - the reader shares the feelings and motivations of the book’s character.
  3. Insight - the reader realizes his or her situation can be dealt with more effectively by imitating or adapting the ideas from the reading material.

Research in bibliotherapy has shown student improvement in the following areas:

  • Problem solving ability
  • Ability to identify socially accepted behaviors
  • Personal adjustment
  • Values development
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Acceptance of people different from themselves
  • Reading achievement

According to Cornett and Cornett (1980) the bibliotherapeutic process can create the following changes:

Affective (attitudes, values, emotions) in the readers.
  1. Promote empathy
  2. Create positive attitudes
  3. Produce personal and social adjustment
  4. Develop positive self-image
  5. Relieve emotional pressures
  6. Develop new interests
  7. Promote tolerance, respect, and acceptance of others
  8. Encourage realization that there is good in all people
  9. Help readers to identify socially accepted behaviors
  10. Stimulate the examination of moral values, which results in character development
  11. Create a desire to emulate models
Cognitive (intellectual, reasoning, thinking) changes on the reader.
  1. Stimulate critical thinking such as analysis, drawing conclusions and implications, making decisions, solving problems, making judgments
  2. Give perspective to problems so that they can be put into proper proportion; reader sees universality of problems
  3. Provide vicarious experiences
  4. Provide insight into human behavior and motives
  5. The reader develops the ability for self-evaluation
  6. Challenge the reader to consider higher-level reasoning
  7. Encourage planning before taking a course of action
  8. Permit discussion on an impersonal level
  9. Reveal that problems have many alternative solutions and individuals have choices in solving problems


Bibliotherapy intervention by: 1. teachers, 2. parents, 3. librarians, and 4. counselors should not substitute for long-range therapeutic intervention by a psychologist or psychiatrist, that may be needed for an individual to resolve deep-seated problems, even though it may be one of the many techniques used by these specialists.

Preparing for bibliotherapy (Bodart [Ed 225-828]).

  1. Ascertain the true nature of a student or a student’s needs
  2. Select a book that meets those needs
  3. Prepare a plan of presentation that includes discussion and follow-up activities

Ways to determine a learner’s needs (Schultheis and Pavik. [Ed 163-493]).

  1. Observation
  2. School records
  3. One-to-one conferences
  4. Conferences with parents or guardians
  5. Carefully constructed writing assignments, especially journal writings. Journal writing can offer students a means of revealing what is bothering them.

Guidelines for choosing a book according to Negin ([Ed 177-498])

  1. Determined the need
  2. Examine books and determine if they provide a fair picture of the problem. Ex: distorted pictures of handicapped
  3. Do not select books that are didactic, moralistic, condescending, or inaccurate
  4. Select books that involve the reader in the problem solving process
  5. Consider the literary merit of the book
  • Realistic themes
  • Consistent plots
  • Non stereotypic characters
  • Imaginative dramatic style
  • Accurate settings

Steps for implementing bibliotherapy according to Schultheis and Pavlik ([Ed 163-493]).

  1. Establish the need
  2. Find the book
  3. Decide whether to use individual or group bibliotherapy

Individual bibliotherapy


  1. Requires one-to-one sessions
  2. Time consuming


  1. Offers student the security of knowing that someone cares enough to listen
  2. Some students feel freer to express themselves in a one-to-one situation

Group bibliotherapy


  1. Allows interaction among the participants who share common needs or interests
  2. Provides security to students who feel uncomfortable if singled out for attention
  3. Allows for sharing of experiences which serves to lessen anxieties, promote feelings of belonging, and improve self-concept
  4. Lead students to appreciate others who are in some way different, thus aiding in social development

Common characteristics of bibliotherapy techniques found by Bodart ([Ed 225-823]).

  1. The student/students read a book (poetry, short stories, plays, or any other form of literature can be used.
  2. The teacher allows a certain amount of time for reflection on the book
  3. The book is discussed either by the student and teacher or by members of the group
  4. Interaction may continue even after the discussion, as the students continue to reflect on the material and expand and clarify the ideas.

Bodart suggests six discussion steps ([Ed 225-828]).

  1. Students retell the plot highlighting the feelings, characters, and situations relevant to the problem at hand.
  2. Ask questions that probe into what happened in the book in order to bring about a shift in feeling and relationship, thus making it easier for students to identify with the characters and situations
  3. Attempt to get the students to transfer the situation in the book to real life situation.
  4. Lead the students to explore the consequences of certain behaviors or feelings and recapitulate what happened as a result of those actions or feelings
  5. Provide opportunities for the group to draw conclusions or generalizations as to whether the actions in the book had positive or negative effects
  6. Create opportunities for the group to determine the desirability or effectiveness of several alternative actions in a specific situation

Bibliotherapy may be limited by:

  1. The readiness of the child to see himself in a mirror
  2. The therapist’s skill in directing the process through all the steps, especially the follow-up
  3. The degree and nature of the child’s problem
  4. The availability of quality materials
  5. The manner in which the book is presented to the child
  6. The tendency of some students to rationalize away problems when reading about them
  7. The student’s and bibliotherapist’s realization of the limitations of the process, i.e., that problems cannot be fully resolved by merely reading about them.
  8. The ability of the student to transfer his insight to real life
  9. The tendency of some students to use literature as an escape, causing increasing withdrawal into a world of fantasy
  10. The interrelationship between the reader and the bibliotherapist
  11. The availability of courses and training programs in bibliotherapy

With that review, let's explore

Using literature to promote caring

Lets identify some assumptions about using literature to create caring, instructional strategies to use with literature to do so, question to analyze literature, getting parents and care givers involve, and sample activity for a book.


Instructional strategies to promote caring with literature

Questions to analyze literature


Getting parents & care givers involved

After the class has shared a piece of literature it is helpful to have learners go home and discuss what the story was about, how the characters felt, how the child felt about the characters, the situation or decisions that were made, and have their feelings and values supported by their parents or care givers.

Sample for John Jermey Colton I would start with a book note sheet, read the story, discuss the story with students, then edit the activity sheet according to how the discussion went, print it, copy it, and send it home for dinner.

If parent or care giver feedback is desired, include the care giver feedback sheet and have the students bring it to school the next day.

Suggestions for parents, care givers, & home correspondence

First, notify parents and care givers of the plan for their child to share literature that is being read or viewed in school with them at home. Include a general description of a discussion process and a summary sheet for a piece of literature and possible topics.

Discussion process & suggestions

General suggestions to make it an enjoyable dinner table type conversation, rather than a homework assignment. Review instructional strategy ideas

Let the child talk freely. Intervene only when its necessary to focus on the book or the theme.

Focus on the characters.

Depending on the age of the student those three might be enough. For older children you might try.

More ideas to analyze literature:

Family Activity

Theme - Heroes

Sample book activity

I read John Jeremy Colton. by Bryan Leech.

Leech, Bryan Jeffrey, (1994). John Jeremy Colton. New York, NY: Hyperion Books For Children.

Although shunned by his neighbors, because of his oddly colored house, John Jeremy Colton proves he is capable of being a hero in a time of crisis.

John Jeremey Coulton cover

The we discussed the themes and question included in the review sheet. I hope you can find some time to have a dinner style conversation with your learners about the ideas you find interesting and important you would like to share with them.

Themes on which to focus
  • People may not be what we think they are.
  • Heroes appear in the least likely places.
  • Anyone could be a hero.
  • What is a hero?
Start with some general questions.
  • What book was read and what it was generally about.
  • What did you like about it?
  • What didn't you like about it?
Follow up with some more specific questions
  • What did John Jeremy feel like when the children did not return?
  • What did the children feel like when they were not allowed to return?
  • How did Mrs. Hythe-Potter feel when she was on the roof?
  • How did Mrs. Hythe-Potter feel at the end?
  • What caused her to change her mind?
  • How did the other towns people feel?
  • What's a hero?


Flip side

If you can find a few minutes, I would appreciate some brief information about your experience.

Briefly describe your child’s reaction to this Literature.








Do you have any comments or suggestions?








Please return this page.

Thank you,

Teacher’s signature:



Six more books with caring themes & questions

Eve and Smithy an Iowa tale. Edwards, Michelle. (1994) New York: NY. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. Smithy tries to think of a gift for Eve his neighbor who gardens and paints pictures in Iowa.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • People can be friends at any age.
  • Modern art can be enjoyed by anyone.
  • Presents are gifts of love and caring.
  • We can all enjoy different things.
  • We can help and care for people in different ways.

Possible questions:

  1. How did Eve and Smithy feel about each other?
  2. How did Eve and Smithy demonstrate those feelings?
  3. Do you know people like Eve and Smithy?
  4. Do you think Eve and Smithy cared for the gifts they exchanged?
  5. What was the most important thing that Eve and Smithy had?


Emma Bean. Leeuwen, Jean Van & Juan Wijngaard. (1994) New York: NY. Dial Book for Young Readers. Emma Bean, a homemade toy rabbit, joins Molly at birth and shares her trials and triumphs as she grows from infant to girl.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • Objects become what we make them.

Possible questions:

  1. What made Emma Bean special?
  2. What makes things special for you?
  3. How did Molly feel when ... pick a time eat green beans, when they played rabbit, when she would dress her, wanted to run away from home, when she went to school for the first time, when she met Sara Louise ... or choose another time.
  4. How did other characters in the book feel, Grandmother, Father, Mother... at different times.


A Game of Catch. Wilbur, Richard & Barry Moser. (1994) New York: NY. Harcourt Brace & Company. Three boys play a game of catch until one begins to feel left out and looks for a way to fit in again.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • People want to belong.
  • We all enjoy different things.
  • We help and care for people in different ways.
  • Possible questions:
  1. Stop when Schoo asks to play catch and ask the students what they think Schoo, Monk, and Glennie are thinking.
  2. Stop again after Schoo misses a catch and the boys are going to take turns for five minutes. Discuss predictions and how each boy may feel.
  3. Discuss at the end of the story how each person may have felt.


Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm. Nolen, Jerdine and Mark Buehner? (1994). New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. A child ventures out in the middle of the night to see how Harvey Potter grows his wonderful balloons.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • Some people are afraid of what they don’t understand.
  • People enjoy what other people do for them.

Possible questions:

  1. How did Wheezle Mayfield feel?
  2. How did the town people feel?
  3. How did Harvey Potter feel when he gave his balloons to others?

Can you find a rabbit, tyrannosaurus rex, a cat, a chicken, a cow, and a pig hidden in each illustration?


I Want to Be. Moss, Thylias & illustrations by Jerry Pinkney (1993). New York: NY. Dial Book for Young Readers. After some though a young girl describes in poetic terms the kind of person she wants to be.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • People want to be many things.

Possible questions:

  1. What do you want to be?
  2. Do you get tired of people asking you the question "What do you want to be?
  3. Why do you think people ask you that question?


Flip-Flop Girl. Paterson, Katherin., (1994). Dutton: NY. Lodestar Books. Uprooted following the death of their father, nine-year-old Vinnie and her brother, Mason, cope in different ways- one in silence- but both with the help of Lupe, the flip-flop girl.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • Different people cope with grief differently.
  • Different people cope with death differently.
  • Different people cope with moving differently.
  • Peer pressure can cause people to overlook some people as friends.

Possible questions:

  1. This book gives ample opportunity for questions about any of these themes.
  2. Questions about why Vinnie would act the way she did at a variety of times.
  3. Questions about how she felt when her father died, when her brother bothered her, when she moved, when she had to leave her one friend behind, when she went to a new school, when Heather would not be her friend, when she met Lupe, and after she found out about Lupe’s father...
  4. How Mr. Paxton felt about her at different times from the beginning to the end (particularly why he reacted the way he did about the barrettes and his car).
  5. How her mother and grandmother felt about her.
  6. How students feel about her actions.


I Never Knew Your Name. Garland, Sherry, (1994). New York: NY. Ticknor & Fields Books for Young Readers. A small boy laments the lonely life of a teenage suicide whose neighbors didn’t even know his name.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • Getting to know people takes time and effort.

Possible questions:

  1. Why do people not take the time or effort to care for people?


Meet Danitra Brown. Grimes, Nikke, (1994). New York: NY. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. Children’s poetry, Afro-American, and city.

Themes on which students can focus:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Friendship
  • Single parent
  • Secrets
  • Stories to tell
  • Sharing
  • Name calling

Possible questions:

  1. How do you think Danitra Brown is able to be so strong?


Additional activities to promote caring

Book list for with caring themes

More books

Anholt, Catherine & Laurence. All Bout You.
Blegvad, Lenore. Anna Banana and Me.
Brown, Laurene Drasny, and Marc Brown. Dinosaurs Divorce. Boston: Little Brown Co.
Hoban, Russell. A Baby Sister For Frances.
Hogan, Paula. Will Dad Ever Move Back Home? : Raintree.
Jordan, Mary Kate. Losing Uncle Tim? Whitman Pub.
Kenny & Krull. Sometimes My Mom Drinks Too Much. Milwaukee, WI: Raintree.
Kraus, Robert. Leo the Late Bloomer.
Martin, Bill, & Archambault, John. Knots on a Counting Rope.
Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One.
Rathman, Peggy. Ruby the Copycat.
Schlein, Miriam. Just Like Me.
Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Waber, Bernard. Ira Sleeps Over.
Bourgeois, Paulette and Brenda Clark. Franklin is Lost.