The Roots of Empathy
In the next couple of weeks, our youngest daughter is going to begin teaching at the local public school where our other children are in Junior Kindergarten and grade two. She will be in the grade one classroom, teaching the other children about empathy.
The Roots of Empathy program began in 1996, founded by Mary Gordon, a Canadian woman with an extraordinary vision of caring, peaceful and civil communities. The center of the program? Babies. Our 3 month old baby is going to be wearing her t-shirt that tells the primary students that she is their teacher.
The Roots of Empathy program has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of aggression and bullying in the classroom, and therefore out into the community through the children that the program reaches. The children in the class become “changers”, recognizing the emotional and physical needs of others and bringing their observations of a loving parent-child relationship to their own experience.
When we take part in the program, we attend the classroom sessions 9 times throughout the year. The nine themes are: meeting the baby, crying, caring & planning, emotions, sleep, safety, communicating, who am I and goodbye & good wishes. The children learn a lot about safety issues for baby like SIDS, the danger of second-hand smoke, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. so they can realize a baby’s vulnerability and how our actions affect the lives of others. The children will ask me questions about the baby and about being a parent during our sessions as well.
Mary Gordon, the founder of Roots of Empathy, has been awarded the Order of Canada, was the first Canadian female who has been awarded the Ashoka Fellowship and sits on the executive board. She has won numerous awards, and continues to expand the program- such as Seeds of Empathy, a program for even younger children and has been successful at getting the programs into Aboriginal communities as well. The program is throughout Canada, New Zealand, Seattle, the Isle of Man and in Ireland. Mary Gordon has also met twice with His Holiness the Dalai Lama regarding empathy.
“Courtney, here’s my wish for you: Forgive your own mistakes” (gr. 4 student)
“My wish for Jordan is that he can be nice to people and help them. I wish that he can help people when they are sick to get better”. (kindergarten student)
These quotes are from the ROE baby’s Wishing Tree they receive from the students in the class at the end of the year, wishes for their futures.
Beth Walker, an ROE Instructor in Toronto, Canada, shares this story
about a Grade 3 student who was bullying another Grade 3 student in the schoolyard. A younger child from her Grade 1 ROE program went up to the bully and said: "That is not
Roots of Empathy. You are hurting his feelings." Reflecting on how this young advocate had become a "Changer," Walker writes that "those words of empathy solved a potential problem and everyone learned from a small child's words!"