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Roots of

Roots of Empathy is an international, evidence and empathy-based classroom program designed for children ages 5 to 13. In Canada, the program is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban, and remote communities including Indigenous communities. The program is also in New Zealand, the United States, the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Switzerland, and Netherlands.

The Program

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

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.

Professional Development

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.

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