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The Roots of Empathy Pandemic Story

By March 8, 2021November 10th, 2021No Comments

Hello, I’m Mary Gordon and I’d like to tell you the story of what’s happened to our programming and our organization during this pandemic. We decided when schools shuttered their doors that we would prepare a virtual program. And that’s exactly what we did. We used to be a program with a “baby-on-a-blanket” in a classroom to a “baby-on-a-screen”. Through a miracle of collaboration and good will, this innovation has spread across Canada and internationally.

We realized the children were more stressed and anxious then we’d ever seen before. Their lives have been turned upside down. We were seeing poor mental health and well-being. So, Roots of Empathy gave children the opportunity to make sense of what is happening to their lives. In fact, our first lesson was titled: What Happened? Together with the children, we spoke about loss of friendships, of seeing relatives, loneliness and stress. The teachers reported improvements in children’s emotional well-being as they were given opportunities to express how they were feeling in discussion, through their art and through letters that they wrote to the Roots of Empathy baby. These letters to their baby explained to the baby what life was like in the first year of their lives. This cohort of babies, born during the pandemic are referred to as Gen C (Corona Virus).

In 2021, we decided to extend our Fall Recovery Program with additional lessons for the winter and spring term with a human-rights focus. Many schools are now ready to start up with the initial Recovery Program in March and it will take them through to the end of the school year. With the human-rights focus, the first lesson was focused on Courage. At every age, courage is required to deal with the challenges children face in their lives and the moral courage to stand up for what isn’t fair. Courage to say, “That’s a mean way to talk or an unfair thing to do.” The pandemic has drawn the curtain on all kinds of adversities, children see and hear more than we may realize. Many topics are discussed in the Recovery Program, for example Bullying and a broad look at Differences. Differences are discussed from the perspective of the children. Some differences they perceive as positive and others as negative.  Children are given the opportunities, based on their age and Roots of Empathy curriculum level, to reflect on how others who are excluded or bullied might feel and contribute suggestions as to what they might be able to do to address these injustices. We’re listening to the children. We are giving them the space to use their voice, we passed them the megaphone. Children know and have been able to tell us very clearly what it feels like to be excluded. As children’s perspective taking skills and emotional literacy grows, so does does their empathy. Children who have empathy can be heroes for social justice. We haven’t changed our mission, visions or goals, just our methodology and although the landscape of childhood has changed dramatically, the nature of childhood has not.

We’ve also provided a series of 12, three-minute videos, Parenting Through COVID-19 to support parents and teachers through these stressful times. These videos have been translated to 18 languages, six of which are indigenous. With themes of Resilience and Friendships, we explore how important children’s friendships are to them and to their development and the concept that resilience is not something a baby is born with but is something the family, schools and communities contribute to.

We also created a series of 10 six-minute videos, Using the Lenses of Temperament to Reach Children to offer parents and teachers a new lens to understand children’s behavior. Temperament theory is shared along with many living examples pulled from different stages of childhood. For example, a child’s First Reaction to novelty could be cautious or adventurous. If you have a child who is high on the continuum of Intensity versus a child who may be low on the continuum, you can expect frequent meltdowns from the highly intense child to a more ‘chill’ attitude from the less Intense child.

These videos are made out of respect for the massive role parents and teachers play in our children’s lives.

Back to the Roots of Empathy Recovery Program, we have had extremely positive feedback from our host teachers, volunteer parents, Instructors and most importantly, from the children. Roots of Empathy has really learned a lot though the innovation of bringing our program online. We’ve learned of the resilience and courage of children, the dedication of their parents and teachers and their remarkable ability of ROE Instructors to navigate this new virtual world with resilience and generosity.

So that’s the short story of the Roots of Empathy organization’s response to COVID. We innovated to create a virtual version of our experiential program. And we created two new resources, Parenting Through COVID-19 and Using the Lenses of Temperament to Reach Children, video responses to parenting and teaching in these tumultuous times. Watch for our next chapter!