The Roots of Empathy program is delivered to elementary school children who are coached to recognize and connect with the vulnerability and humanity of a baby who visits their classroom throughout the school year with their parent(s), along with a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor using a specialized curriculum. The experiential learning with the neighbourhood parent and infant is biologically embedded in the student’s brains as they observe this secure attachment relationship. Through guided observation the children label the baby’s feelings and intentions, learning the affective aspect of empathy (emotion) and the cognitive aspect of empathy (perspective-taking). In Roots of Empathy, emotional literacy develops as children begin to identify and label the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings, then bridge to understand the feelings of others.
Through our activities in this Family Visit the students are given opportunities to discuss their feelings and listen to the feelings of others. The Instructor also visits the classroom the week before and the week after the Family Visit to deliver activities in preparation for and in reflection of the activities of the Family Visit. These Pre and Post Family Visits deepen the development of emotional literacy (affective empathy) and perspective taking skills (cognitive empathy) in children, helping them to understand how their behaviour or words can hurt others. This enables children to build connections and healthy relationships which leads to inclusion and integration.
The cognitive aspect of empathy is perspective taking and the affective aspect is emotion. Roots of Empathy educates both the mind and the heart.
Empathy is a key ingredient of responsible citizenship and responsive parenting. Information on infant safety and development helps children to be more aware of issues of infant vulnerability such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Shaken Baby Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and second-hand smoke. Observations of a loving parent-child relationship give children a model of responsible parenting.
The curriculum is comprehensive and attuned to the development and interests of the children. The curriculum is divided into nine themes, with three classroom visits supporting each theme (a pre-family visit, family visit and post-family visit) for a total of 27 classes. Each of the nine themes is further broken down into four age ranges in elementary/primary schools.
The Roots of Empathy curriculum addresses the affective side of education, but the activities have many links to the classroom curriculum. For example, students use math skills when they calculate and chart the baby’s weight and measurements. Literature is used as a way to open the door to feelings and perspective taking. The discussion and reflection that follows builds solidarity and empathy. Art plays a large role as children paint their inner feelings which they cannot say with words. Music stirs powerful feelings. It speaks to everyone regardless of language or culture and builds solidarity.
We invest in our volunteer Instructors by providing a comprehensive, four day training with a certified Roots of Empathy trainer. You receive a curriculum, classroom kit, story books, and all other materials you will need to deliver the program.
You also receive on-going guidance on best practices by Roots of Empathy Mentors, as well as professional development opportunities, ensuring you are qualified, confident and supported.
Learn more – Roots of Empathy Instructor Role, Responsibilities and Commitment
The Volunteer Instructor
A Roots of Empathy Instructor delivers all aspects of the Roots of Empathy curriculum in the classroom and builds respectful relationships with the participating family, classroom teacher and students. Often, Instructors come from teaching, early childhood education, social work, guidance counselling, health or recreation backgrounds.
If you’re interested in becoming an Instructor, you can learn more here.
The Volunteer Family
A Roots of Empathy Family volunteers in the classroom with their baby who is two to four months old at the beginning of the program. Families commit to visiting the classroom once every three weeks during the program year.
We seek families who live in the community, so that they reflect the cultural, racial and linguistic tone of the neighbourhood. This helps create a bond between the children in the classroom and the Roots of Empathy Family, which is reinforced when the children see the parent(s) and baby in the street and rush over to ask how ‘their baby’ is doing.
If you’re interested in volunteering with your baby, you can learn more here.
The Host Schools
“Education is the most effective peace-building institution in the land. Our schools serve as our Ministry of Peace.” – Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
We can’t deliver our programs without the support of schools. Roots of Empathy is delivered in school classrooms during regular school hours. The program is offered to elementary school children from Kindergarten to Grade 8, using a specialized curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, Grades 4-6, and Grades 7-8.
If you’re interested in bringing Roots of Empathy to your school, you can learn more here.
What Global Influencers Say About Us
“Programs like Roots of Empathy will build world peace.”The Dalai LamaMary Gordon has had public dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
“Emboldened by what infants and young children have taught us about how early in life the seeds of compassion are planted and what it takes to grow the roots of empathy deeply, Mary Gordon strives to bring about no less than world peace and protection for our planet’s future, starting with schools and classrooms everywhere, one child, one parent and one teacher at a time.”Dr. T. Berry BrazeltonMD, Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus, Harvard Medical School and Founder, Brazelton Touchpoints Center
“Empathy, an innate human quality that arises in a child from nurturing attachment relationships is increasingly rare in our stressed, alienated, and disconnected culture. Mary Gordon’s Roots of Empathy program…provides young students with an environment in which they can interact with someone even more vulnerable than they, under the care and attention of loving adults. Empathy grows naturally.”Dr Gabor MateMD, Author of Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
“Mary Gordon introduces us to the wisdom of babies and shows us what they can teach us- and our children- what it is to be human. Over a lifetime, I have learned that the human capacities for empathy and respect must be fostered from earliest childhood to reduce violence in the world and build a truly civil society.”The Honourable Landon PearsonFormer Advisor on Children’s Rights to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs
“Roots of Empathy is solidly based on scientific knowledge of the human condition. But more than that, it takes us into the pedagogy of how one can develop and foster attachment, emotional literacy, authentic communication and social inclusion.”Michael FullanProfessor Emeritus, Education, former special advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario
“Mary Gordon has created a brilliant strategy for teaching young children the essential skills to see the mind within each person.....Empathy in all its forms is encouraged and cultivated in this science-based, emotion inspiring, life-changing immersion in the inner world of human development.”Dr. Dan SiegelClinical Professor of Psychiatry UCLA School of Medicine, Founding Co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, UCLA
“The beauty of Roots of Empathy is that it intentionally and effectively addresses the fundamental relational poverty that our society is experiencing.”Dr. Bruce D. PerrySenior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy (Houston, TX) and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine
“We have to start with the next generation of parents. Imagine a child...born into a family where violence was the norm...He finds it hard to concentrate, to trust adults, to form relationships. Jacob's teachers notice this...His teachers also see the difference Roots of Empathy is making – a weekly school-based programme that teaches children social skills and seems to have brought down the aggression of kids in the playground.”The Right Honourable Jacinda ArdernPrime Minister, New Zealand