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Roots of Empathy

posted Feb 27, 2017, 9:09 AM by Kathy Carr
Roots of Empathy (ROE) is a program new this year to R. J. Waugh School in Carberry, but it has been operating in schools in Manitoba for over 15 years. Roots of Empathy is a Canadian, award-winning evidence-based program, created by Mary Gordon, for students in kindergarten to grade eight.  Regan Man­ns’ and Jody McLeod’s grade two classes were chosen to host the program this year. The trained ROE instructors delivering the program in Carberry include re­source teacher, Kristin Clark and retired principal, Myrna Wells. Claire Fisher and her mother, Kristen, and Caitlyn Early and her mother, Jodiene, are this year’s participating families.
In the Roots of Empathy program, a parent and baby (who is two to four months old at the start of the program) from the community visit a classroom nine times (once a month) over the course of a school year. The ROE instructor facilitates the visit and guides the children as they observe the baby and their parent. Each month has an assigned theme, which the lessons and discussion are based on. 
The instructor also visits before and after each family visit to reinforce the teachings. There are 3 classroom visits with each theme, making for a total of 27 visits over the course of the school year. 
In the program, the baby is the “Teacher.” With each family visit, the instructor leads the children in noticing how the baby is growing and changing over the course of his or her first year of life. The children also watch the loving relationship between the parent and baby. They see how the parent responds to the baby’s emotions and meets the baby’s needs. The attachment relationship between a baby and a parent is an ideal model of empathy.
This program teaches children about feelings – in general, their own and those of others. The instructor coaches the children in observing the baby and reading the cues the baby gives to indicate how she is feeling. They are also encouraged to communicate their own feelings and learn to recognize the feelings of others through facial expressions and body language. This program brings the class together as a community and creates a connection with the larger community, outside of the school.
A decade of independent academic research across several countries has consistently shown that the program dramatically reduced aggression and increased social and emotional understanding among children who receive it. Children who have participated in Roots of Empathy programs are reportedly kinder, more cooperative and more inclusive of others, and less aggressive and less likely to bully others compared to children who do not participate in the program. These positive effects have been shown to last years. 
Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Their vision is to change the world—child by child. 

by Gladwyn Scott