As the children follow the development of "their" Roots of Empathy baby, they develop new awareness and skills to last a lifetime:
In Roots of Empathy, the Instructor guides the children to observe, comment on, and draw conclusions about how the baby is feeling. This gives children a vocabulary for describing and understanding their own feelings and those of others. As students learn to identify, label, and discuss their emotions, student's understanding of one another is increased. This is called “Emotional Literacy”. With this “Literacy of Feelings” children become kinder to one another, changing the tone of the classroom.
Perspective taking is the cognitive aspect of empathy, crucial to conflict resolution. Through the use of literature and group discussion, children learn to respect and understand the opinions of others. In Roots of Empathy, students learn to see through the eyes of the baby and their classmates. As they come to understand how others feel (empathy), they are less likely to hurt each other.
In Roots of Empathy, students learn that “Love Grows Brains”. They are taught and become interested in the brain development of the baby. They learn it is through experiences, delivered through senses that the baby's brain grows. If these experiences are delivered through the lens of a loving relationship, the baby's brain will grow in a healthy and vigorous manner. “Love Grows Brains!” -Mary Gordon
Prevention of Teen Pregnancy
While older Roots of Empathy students observe the joys of parenthood, they also gain insights into the huge demands and the responsibility of caring for a baby. Students learn about the vulnerability of an infant and the baby's absolute dependence on its parents.
In the theme on sleeping, students track their own sleeping patterns for a week and then compare it to the parent's sleeping pattern. Students talk about the big differences in sleep patterns and explore with the parent the coping skills needed to meet the nightly demands of a baby.
The Roots of Empathy Instructor uses research on temperament to illustrate the uniqueness of each baby and also the uniqueness of each student. Students are guided to observe how the baby responds to situations, and are taught about the different characteristics babies are born with. If a baby reacts with high intensity, students learn that this is neither good or bad; it's just the way the baby is. Children learn through observations and by asking the parent, how to read the baby's cues.
Students delight in being able to predict how their baby will respond to new experiences, based on their understanding of the baby's temperament. Children gain insights into their own temperament and tend to be very understanding of their children's difficult temperament traits. The overall message is one of acceptance and respect for individual differences.
Attachment / Attunement
Over the course of the school year, students observe the growth of the bond between infant and parent as well as the attunement of the parent to the baby. They are witnessing the most influential relationship in a life span. They learn how the baby relies on the parent to understand the world, to feel safe to explore and to learn how to regulate his/her emotions. The parent-infant relationship is presented as the template for all future relationships in life. Children learn the importance of a caring, loving and responsive relationship.
Students also witness the many interactions which comprise a secure attachment and have the opportunity to discuss and reflect upon this in class. One student, realizing the importance of a secure attachment for a good start in life, asked, “Is it still possible to be a good parent, even if no one has ever loved you?” Roots of Empathy strives to make sure that it is always possible to become a good parent.
In 30 percent of the Roots of Empathy classes, fathers participate and the impact is palpable. When fathers participate very clear messages of male nurturance are delivered. Fathers share their perspective on parenting in different ways than mothers. Their playful interactions are generally of a different quality and their modelling of emotional literacy is a goldmine.
In the Roots of Empathy Family Visit, fathers discuss their own feelings about being a parent as well as demonstrate in their interaction with their baby what it means to be a loving father. For boys, who traditionally in our society have less opportunity to talk about feelings, these discussions can be enlightening. All the children in the Roots of Empathy program become more fluent in discussing their feelings and more respectful of the feelings of others.
The Roots of Empathy classroom is a participatory democracy where all children are encouraged to contribute and ask questions. Activities are designed to help children work on consensus building and collaboration. They gain experience working in small groups that are not determined by their level of reading or their math skills; these new groupings allow children to reinvent themselves. Reticent children who normally don't speak in class become fearless contributors. There are no wrong answers in a Roots of Empathy classroom. Instructors are trained to thank children for their contributions rather than praising them. This principle of intrinsic motivation creates a tone that is friendly, participatory and levels of social trust rise.
Children learn appreciation for the uniqueness of individuals, their opinions, beliefs and contributions; differences are acknowledged and celebrated. Through shared feelings and discussion, students discover how they are alike. As children come to understand the injustice of being left out they become advocates for the human rights of others, and learn to replace bullying and other forms of cruelty with kindness and compassion.
Diversity is celebrated in the Roots of Empathy classroom. Parents and infants who participate in the program reflect the many races, cultures, languages and religions of communities across Canada. Children who watch the loving parent-infant relationship learn that love transcends language and cultural barriers. When children have the opportunity to welcome a physically challenged baby into their Roots of Empathy classroom, they learn to embrace differences and become advocates for those who might be stigmatized.
Babies at the beginning of the Roots of Empathy program are between 2 and 4 months and usually reach their first birthday at the conclusion of the program. This is a period of incredible growth and development for the baby, which the children witness with keen observation. All students learn about the individual timetable of growth for their baby. The children measure, graph and record the baby's size a minimum of three times throughout the program. Milestones like learning to roll over or the arrival of the first tooth are celebrated. Children learn about how the baby's language skills are built and the key role that parents play as they coo, talk, sing and read a book to baby.
In the Roots of Empathy classroom children become aware of the risk factors to babies. They are sensitized to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Shaken Baby Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the dangers of second hand smoke. Children learn to think in terms of cause and effect around accidents in their own lives.
The program has a strong focus on child abuse prevention. The teaching around the Shaken Baby Syndrome helps students understand the stresses of parenting and the potential for child abuse. Students learn about the importance of the attachment and attunement of the infant to his/her primary care giver that forms a template for every subsequent relationship in life. As students cultivate empathy, and particularly as boys expand their emotional literacy, there is every hope that domestic violence in their adult lives will be reduced.
The steady drum roll of emotional ineptitude plays out every day on our TV screens, newspapers, neighbourhood streets, homes and schools. Our language is peppered with new phrases "drive-by-shooting", "road rage", "schoolyard shootings", and "terrorist bombings". Our communities and our lives are affected by many different forms of violence: from domestic violence, to child abuse, from bullying to hate crimes. Whether we or someone close to us is directly victimized, or whether we are simply conscious of the violence that exists in our schools and in our communities, our lives are affected by its existence in many ways.
Roots of Empathy is a pedagogy of hope, because in our children we have an opportunity to create a new order where our differences can be acknowledged but our similarities will be our uniting force.”
- Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy