Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies
through the development of empathy in children and adults.
Back in October, we posted on our facebook page about the Roots of Empathy program. I was very fortunate to participate in the program last year, with my (then) new baby and wanted to share my experience of such a great program, as I don’t think enough people know about it!
Mary Gordon, President of Roots of Empathy, started the program in 1996. Basically, a neighborhood baby and parent visit a classroom and “teach” the kids about the baby, it’s actions and emotions, thereby helping them develop empathy for the child, and ultimately, others. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor accompanies the parent in the classroom and guides the children to focus on different themes – including “why does a baby cry?” “what are a baby’s needs?” and so forth. The baby becomes the teacher and is a catalyst for helping the children to identify and reflect on their own feelings and those of others.
According to the Roots of Empathy website, British Columbia was one of the first provinces in Canada to offer the program. In 2000, it began in ten classrooms in Vancouver, and to date, the program has reached nearly 90,000 BC children with the participation of about 3,600 babies. Best of all, the program has shown that it’s had a significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising awareness and empathy for others.
I found out about the Roots of Empathy program in 2008, when a friend of mine was involved in the program at a local school with her baby. By that time, my daughter, Hayley, was already 8 months old and the school-year was half over, but I vowed to remember this program and participate in the future, when I had another baby.
My second baby, Megan, was born in early September 2010. Several weeks before her birth, I had sent an email to the British Columbia coordinator, whose contact information I found on the Roots of Empathy website. I didn’t hear anything back for awhile, and to be honest, in the chaos of the first few weeks of adjusting to a new baby and a “family of four” lifestyle (not to mention the sleep deprivation), I kind-of forgot about it! But, lo and behold, when Megan was about three weeks old, I got a lovely phone call from Merlene Sibley, a local Roots of Empathy Instructor, following up on my initial email request and asking if I was still interested in the program!
After that, it all came together very quickly! Merlene came to my house and met with me to talk about the program. There was a Grade 3 teacher at McGowan Park Elementary school (our neighbourhood school) who was interested in participating in the Roots of Empathy program. We visited, I shared some of our experiences with Megan, so far, and we booked our first “classroom visit” for October. Megan would be 2 months old. Merlene explained that she would visit the classroom to do a “pre-lesson” one week. The following week, I would visit the classroom with Megan. The week after, she would visit the class again, to “de-brief” the session with the baby, and so on…
From the very first visit, I was both touched and amazed by the kids in the class. They were so interested in Megan – they had so many great questions! They all wanted a turn to help. Over the months that followed, I witnessed so much learning and I began to see how much they really cared about her! By the time we had our last visit, in late May, I felt that they had really bonded with her. They had planned a farewell party and I was truly touched – they had treats for us, a book they’d made for her and a giant poster “collage” of photos of us in the classroom and them interacting with Megan. This poster hangs in our home, as a fond reminder of our time spent with these kids.
By the end of the program, they were “attached” – and so were we! It was sad to say good-bye! But, now, we occasionally run into a student, at the swimming pool or the park or the bookstore, and they are so excited to see Megan and how she’s grown and changed, since they first met her. And I’m reminded what a special “community of caring” we’ve developed because of this experience.
What do you need to know about this program?
- A Roots of Empathy baby must be between 2 and 4 months old at the start of the program. This enables the students to observe a wide range of the infant’s development over the year.
- The trained Roots of Empathy Instructor will tell you what the class will be talking about each month and will lead all of the lessons.
- The parent is asked to talk about the baby and answer any questions the students may have.
- The parent volunteers their time and is not paid.
- It is best if only the parent and baby come to the class without sibling(s), so that the students focus on the baby. Sometimes arrangements might be made with the teacher to have the sibling(s) come once, as a special visit.
The web: www.rootsofempathy.org
The book: Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, by Mary Gordon
The news: Roots of Empathy Program Expanding
The British Columbia Coordinator: Jessie Deacon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions about the Kamloops program? Val Janz, Interior Community Services, email@example.com
Questions about my experience? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this post, below.
Jennifer has lived in Kamloops for 20 years and is proud to call it home! She has developed many great friends and connections in the community throughout that time and is passionate about bringing families together in the community and providing resources to them! She is currently a full-time mom to Hayley and Megan. In September, she will return to her full-time job as well! In her (not so) spare time, she likes to hang out with friends and family, go boating, and occasionally do some scrapbooking and writing!