From the Chair
« returnMay 23, 2006
What can babies teach children? If you ask the Grade 3 and Grade 5 students at Churchill Public School, you are likely to hear one resounding response – “Lots!” The students have been welcoming baby Danielle and baby Elizabeth Rose into their classrooms since the fall. It’s all part of the Roots of Empathy Program, a character education initiative now in its second year at Churchill Public School.
The many benefits of Roots of Empathy are reflected in the program’s goals – 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; and to prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.
Roots of Empathy is currently offered in 13 Rainbow Schools in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin. Effective this fall, the Rainbow District School Board will expand the program to all of its elementary schools with funding being provided by the Ministry of Education. The program is being delivered in partnership with Our Children, Our Future.
The heart of Roots of Empathy is the neighbourhood parent and infant who join the instructor in the classroom for “Family Visits”. Each participating class "adopts" a baby who visits the classroom, along with his/her parent and a trained Roots of Empathy instructor, once a month for a full school year. A number of themes are explored including meet the baby, crying, caring and planning for baby, emotions, sleep, safety, communicating, who am I?, and good bye and good wishes.
Roots of Empathy Instructor, Bernice Hibbs, says the program’s primary purpose is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children. “The focus of Roots of Empathy in the long term is to build capacity for the next generation for caring and compassionate citizenship and parenting,” she says.
Empathy is the ability to identify with another person's feelings. The ability to see and feel things as others see and feel them is central to competent parenting and successful social relationships in all stages of life. According to Roots of Empathy, the classroom is a window on the future. Building good citizens in the classroom today will lead to a civil society tomorrow. This is fundamental to character education in Rainbow Schools.
When students gain an appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual, their opinions, beliefs and contributions, they gain respect.
The Roots of Empathy program focuses on "setting the table for everybody, whether that person comes to the table in a wheelchair or a rocking chair or a high chair".
Roots of Empathy celebrates diversity. This perspective includes other races, religions, languages, cultures and people who are different in their lifestyles, economic levels, political beliefs, parenting styles, family configurations, abilities and disabilities.
Roots of Empathy students learn to identify, label and talk about feelings. The children's ability to express their feelings helps to validate themselves as individuals. It also requires them to validate others as individuals, by identifying with another person's feelings and thoughts.
“In our ongoing efforts to reach minds and touch hearts, we continue to focus attention on building quality schools where character counts,” says Jean Hanson, Director of Education for the Rainbow District School Board. “The Roots of Empathy program is an important part of character education in Rainbow Schools. It has proven to be an effective way of developing positive student behaviour.”
“As the children observe the parent-infant interaction and follow the baby's development, they learn how infants grow and develop,” says Director Hanson. “They also learn to understand a baby's temperament, to observe a baby's facial cues, to identify feelings and to effectively parent. In the process, they learn to be compassionate and caring citizens of the world.”
The Rainbow District School Board is looking for volunteer parents and babies to participate in the Roots of Empathy program this fall. We invite parents expecting children in the next few months to consider getting involved. It’s important that babies be no more than three months when Family Visits begin in September. Students will watch the babies grow throughout the school year.
Any parents interested in volunteering for Roots of Empathy should contact Anne Landry at Our Children, Our Future at 705-677-0440. Our Children, Our Future is also looking for Roots of Empathy instructors in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin.