Children in this Seeds of Empathy program at the Six Nations Day
Care Centre, Ohsweken learn to take the perspective of Baby Violet as she
tries to do something new. Perspective taking is cognitive empathy.
Roots of Empathy has a long history of delivering empathy-based programs to Indigenous children, both on reserves and in communities close to First Nations. Our programs, Roots of Empathy for elementary school students and Seeds of Empathy for children in childcare centres, develop social and emotional competence, self-regulation, and executive function – fundamental abilities that foster healthy life long development. Empathy fosters inclusion and builds resilience, well-being and positive mental health.
Eighteen years of published, independent research proves the effectiveness of the Roots of Empathy program which has been repeatedly shown to reduce aggression, including bullying, and increase prosocial behaviour – kindness, caring, helping and including. The research shows impact continues after the programs are completed.
Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy programs reach Indigenous children in every province in Canada. We also work with Indigenous communities in New Zealand and Hawaii.
Both Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy are universal programs, benefiting all children in the classroom or centre, including First Nation, Metis and Inuit children. Our programs also benefit many Indigenous adults from the community – Elders, educators and the volunteer families. In many Indigenous communities, Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy are identified as “healing programs” because they increase emotional literacy.
In 2008, we were tremendously honoured when Canada’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed Resolution 38 and invited Founder President Mary Gordon to speak at the 2008 General Assembly to support and endorse Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy, calling both programs “compatible with traditional First Nations teachings and worldviews.” Subsequently, Mary Gordon was invited to the 2009 inauguration celebrations for AFN Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.
“These programs [Roots of Empathy] transcend race, colour, and family in our centre. They have brought us all so much closer and truly reflect the values of our nation” – Wet’suwet’en First Nation, B.C.
“Hearing the children say, ‘I feel’ has been profound for our staff, our centre, and parents. In some families, the children are teaching the parents and grandparents how to talk about their feelings. This is really important as we need our children to know about feelings and not be afraid of them or expressing them.” – Wet’su’wetin Child and Family Centre, Wet’suwet’en First Nation, B.C.
- School mental health leads have embraced the Roots of Empathy program as it meets their goals to support mental health and well-being. When children are able to understand another’s point of view and respect their feelings, aggressive behaviour, including bullying, is less likely to occur.
- In 2017-18
- 14 of Ontario’s 39 Seeds of Empathy centres, or 39%, were Indigenous.
- 15 Roots of Empathy programs were on reserve in First Nation classrooms across Ontario.
- 20 Roots of Empathy programs were delivered in classrooms with high numbers of Indigenous students in the cities of London, Hamilton, Timmins, Orillia, Atikokan, Penetanguishene and Thunder Bay.
“We had a supply teacher come in for the regular classroom teacher. She was playing a Thunder Drum and talking to the children about mindfulness and kindness. One student, a fairly active and distractive fellow, very quietly put up his hand. He told her, ‘We learn about kindness and helping others with our baby, we talk about roots of empathy, like a tree…it means we feel what our friends feel. If they are sad, we can feel sad for them and then help make them happy again.” – Roots of Empathy Instructor, Cambridge
In British Columbia
Our relationships within Indigenous communities in British Columbia continue to be a focal point in our work.
- 35% of all BC Seeds of Empathy programs are in First nations communities or Head Start Centres
- We deliver Roots of Empathy programs in band operated schools of the Lower Kootenay First Nation, Tseshant First Nation, Gitxaala First Nation and Cowichan First Nation.
Cindy Spencer, Centre Administrator says this is “a moment of connection.”
What this student’s artwork tells us
In Roots of Empathy classes, whether at the kindergarten level or Grade 7, all students are invited to reflect on who they are, and on what is important to them and to their family. Additionally, children are exposed to the concept of intrinsic motivation and intrinsic pride, that their contribution to their family, school and community is not so much about their talent in school or sports or art, but about their character. The “Who Am I” theme which comes close to the end of the Roots of Empathy year has allowed this student to reflect on his pride of his First Nations heritage. He is also proud of his empathic development which results in him considering himself as being kind, caring, having friendships and being forthright. This student’s pride and ability to be involved with his Nation and sports connects him to a broader community. He also identifies his family as being part of his identity. This list is a well-balanced list of a life well-lived at the age of twelve. If we had more children like this student we would have more peace and more happiness in the world.
- Specialized brochure celebrating the passing of Resolution 38, and highlighting comments from children and instructors in Indigenous programs.
- Outreach resources for both Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy in Ojibway, Cree Syllabics and Cree Roman Orthography.
- Board book entitled Faces in Time, consisting of images of babies of Indigenous heritage and text in Indigenous languages including Cree Syllabics, Inuktitut, Ojibway and Mohawk.
- Wise Love