By Wendy Knowlton
Family Matters is bringing Roots of Empathy to Annapolis County. Roots of Empathy is a program that was founded by Mary Gordon in 1996. It is now all across Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. In Nova Scotia, Roots of Empathy is being taught in 61 classrooms, and reached 1,525 children in 2008-2009 (Restorative Practices at Work in the Classroom, The Society Record, Terry Bartlett-Visser, July 2009). So what exactly does this program do?
Roots of Empathy has a new baby and his or her parent(s) come in to a classroom nine times throughout the year. There is a Roots of Empathy instructor who works with the children in the classroom before, during and after the baby’s visits. For example, if the baby starts to cry during the visit, the Roots of Empathy instructor would ask the classroom children why the baby was crying. The children would guess reasons why the baby might be unhappy: hungry, wet diaper, scared, etc. This helps the children understand that there is a reason for the baby to cry. It promotes an understanding of emotions and empathy.
The children in the classroom are able to see the development of the baby over the year, ask questions, and share observations. The children learn about parenting. They learn about human development, both physical and emotional. They learn emotional literacy and understanding. Even teachers have stated that they learned something about their students they had not known before this program.
Does it work? Statistics have shown that Roots of Empathy fosters a decrease in aggression in students. Research also shows an increase in pro-social behaviour with the students who participate in the program. This program helps children develop compassion and tolerance. They are able to understand others’ points of view, and respect the feelings of others. It develops, well, empathy.
This program is very exciting to us, and two of our staff have just been trained to go into the elementary schools in our area and carry out this program. For more information, contact us or look up the Roots of Empathy website at: www.rootsofempathy.org.
Building healthy, happy families!
WENDY KNOWLTON is executive director of Family Matters, Annapolis County Family Resource Centre in Lawrencetown.
Building Roots of Empathy
By Wendy Knowlton
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