By Stan Ashbee
Westwind Weekly News
Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown a significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. Roots of Empathy, launched in 1996, is currently delivered in 10 countries on three continents.
Its goal is to: foster the development of empathy; develop emotional literacy; reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence, and promote children’s pro-social behaviours; increase knowledge of human development, learning and infant safety; and prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.
Key research findings show children perceived a more positive classroom environment by the end of the program. Children also exhibit: an increase in pro-social behaviour (sharing, helping and including); a decrease in aggression — which is particularly significant given children in the comparison classrooms showed increases in aggression across the school year; an increase in social and emotional understanding; and an increase in knowledge of parenting.
Studies conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at specific types of aggression (i.e. proactive — bullying), physical, relational and reactive. All of these studies showed a significant decrease in aggression in the program groups.
“It is a program developed with a curriculum depending on what grade you go into. The purpose of the program is to give skills to children about social competency — and the tool is the baby. To use the baby to develop those skills and learn through the baby and watch the baby grow,” said Family and Community Support Services’ Parent Program manager Petra DeBow.
It’s a program that has been highly researched — where a baby is brought into the classroom and the students learn through the baby, added Stacey Maynes, parenting and family coach at the FCSS Stirling Parent Link Centre. ”They learn empathy, they learn about a baby — how to take care of a baby and they learn their feelings, as they relate to the baby,” she noted.
There are nine different themes throughout the year for this program, according to Maynes. “We come in once a week to talk to the kids. For each theme, there’s a pre-family visit, a family visit, and a post-family visit. The pre and the post, I just go into the classroom without the baby and we teach what the theme is about and then we bring the baby in for that family visit and then we talk about that visit the next week, with the kids.”
As an example, Maynes said one theme is safety, so she goes into the classroom and talks about safety in relation to what milestones the baby is learning and why they are important. “Why are milestones important? Well, because when our baby starts crawling and moving around we need to be more cautious and careful to take care of our baby. We talk about some dangers and safety concerns of things to be aware of. We also talk about not ever drinking or smoking when you’re pregnant or being around smoke because it’s harmful to the baby. We talk about the important of making them sleep on their backs — we deal with all that sort of stuff,” she explained.
Between Kindergarten and Grade 8 are the classes the program caters too. “I personally do Grade 1 right now in the Stirling School,” she noted, adding the program is offered in some of the schools within the Westwind and Horizon school divisions. Roots of Empathy in Stirling has been offered for over 10 years.
Local families help with the program in each of the communities Roots of Empathy is offered. “We usually look for moms that are pregnant in the summer,” she joked. “They have to be born at a certain time because we want them to be between two and four months when we start the program.”
FCSS currently offers Roots in the communities of Stirling and Raymond. For more information contact FCSS at firstname.lastname@example.org.