|Roots of Empathy infant "teachers" in Grey Bruce|
Every once in a while a program comes along to give me a new lease on life and to reinforce the fact that the world is not such a bad place after all...and there is hope for future generations.
Such a program, "Roots of Empathy", recently caught my attention when it celebrated a dozen one-year-old babies for their part in teaching some very important life lessons to nearly 400 students from across Grey Bruce region over the past school year. Quite an incredible accomplishment, when you stop to think about it.
Participating with their parents in the Roots of Empathy program, these babies, dubbed ‘tiny teachers’, helped children from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in 13 schools across Grey Bruce learn about expressing feelings, respect, inclusion, infant development and safety and the power of a loving bond between parent and child. A total of 17 infants and their parents took part in the pilot program.
Roots of Empathy is an international, evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The program is 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 and Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and Costa Rica.
At the heart of the program are a neighborhood infants and parents who visit the classroom every three weeks over the school year. A trained Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a lever, which the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.
This “emotional literacy” taught in the program lays the foundation for safer and more caring classrooms, where children are the “Changers”. They are more competent in understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others (empathy) and are therefore less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties.
In the Roots of Empathy program children learn how to challenge cruelty and injustice. Messages of social inclusion and activities that are consensus building contribute to a culture of caring that changes the tone of the classroom. The Instructor also visits before and after each family visit to prepare and reinforce teachings using a specialized lesson plan for each visit.
Research results from national and international evaluations of Roots of Empathy indicate significant reductions in aggression and increases in pro-social behaviour.
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 to 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 goals of the initiative are:
To foster the development of empathy
To develop emotional literacy
To reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence, and promote children’s pro-social behaviours
To increase knowledge of human development, learning, and infant safety
To prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting
Catherine Talbot, International Liaison for Roots of Empathy acknowledged the efforts made by families, instructors and schools to make the program in Grey Bruce such a success locally including Bluewater District School Board, Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, and Bruce Grey Catholic District School Boards as well as community partners Keystone Child, Youth and Family Services and Kids & Us.