Roots of Empathy

An evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing em


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About the project Edit

Roots of Empathy is an award-winning charitable organization that offers empathy-based programming for children. Our vision is to change the world - child by child.

It is considered a model of social innovation and has two programs: a flagship program of the same name for children in elementary school (Roots of Empathy) and Seeds of Empathy, its "younger sibling" - a program for children ages three-to-five in early childhood settings. Both programs have shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among children while raising their social and emotional competence and increasing empathy.

It is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The program reaches elementary schoolchildren from Kindergarten to Grade 8. In Canada, the program is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban, and remote communities including Aboriginal communities.

Roots of Empathy is also delivered in New Zealand, the United States, Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Emotional Literacy
At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who visit the classroom every three weeks over the school year. A trained Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a lever, which the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

This “emotional literacy” taught in the program lays the foundation for more safe and caring classrooms, where children are the “Changers”. They are more competent in understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others (empathy) and are therefore less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties.

In the Roots of Empathy program children learn how to challenge cruelty and injustice. Messages of social inclusion and activities that are consensus building contribute to a culture of caring that changes the tone of the classroom. The Instructor also visits before and after each family visit to prepare and reinforce teachings using a specialized lesson plan for each visit. Research results from national and international evaluations of Roots of Empathy indicate significant reductions in aggression and increases in pro-social behaviour.

The cognitive aspect of empathy is perspective taking and the affective aspect is emotion. Roots of Empathy educates both the mind and the heart.

Empathy is a key ingredient to responsible citizenship and responsive parenting. Information on infant safety and development helps children to be more aware of issues of infant vulnerability such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Shaken Baby Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and second hand smoke. Observations of a loving parent-child relationship give children a model of responsible parenting.

The Roots of Empathy Curriculum

The curriculum is comprehensive and attuned to the development and interests of the children. The 639-page curriculum is divided into nine themes, with three classroom visits supporting each theme (a pre-family visit, family visit and post-family visit) for a total of 27 visits. Each of the nine themes is further broken down into four age ranges:

• Kindergarten
• Primary (Grades 1-3)
• Junior (Grades 4-6)
• Senior (Grades 7-8)

The ROE curriculum addresses the affective side of education, but the activities have many links to the classroom curriculum. For example, students use math skills when they calculate and chart the baby’s weight and measurements. Literature is used as a way to open the door to feelings and perspective taking. The discussion and reflection that follows builds solidarity and empathy. Art plays a large role as children paint their inner feelings which they cannot say with words. Music stirs powerful feelings. It speaks to everyone regardless of language or culture and builds solidarity.

Seeds of Empathy

Seeds of Empathy is Roots of Empathy’s “younger sibling”. It is a program that fosters social and emotional competencies and early literacy skills and attitudes in children three to five years of age in Early Childhood settings. To learn more about Seeds of Empathy, please visit the program’s website

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Our 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
• To prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting

What is the social value of this project? Edit


Roots of Empathy Recognizes National Bullying Awareness Week

November 12-17, 2012 was National Bullying Awareness Week in Canada, and in support of those “Standing Up!” to bullying nationwide, Roots of Empathy invited past students to describe how participation in the program has changed their perspectives. Below are the students’ responses with the respect to the program, empathy and bullying.


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.

Culture of Caring
The classroom is a window on the future. Children learn to care for one another, their world and their future. Building good citizens in the classroom today will lead to a civil society tomorrow.

In the Roots of Empathy classroom respect encompasses appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual, their opinions, beliefs and contributions, the importance of voice, the role of place and a respectful sense of our environment as a gift for our shared use.

Power of Parenting
At all income levels, parenting has a powerful impact on children’s learning and behaviour, on who they become. Roots of Empathy teaches the crucial role of parenting for optimal early childhood development leading to healthy human development. The children of today are the parents and citizens of tomorrow.

Participatory Democracy
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.

The Roots of Empathy program focuses on “setting a place at the table for everybody. Whether a person’s seat at the table is in a wheelchair, a rocking chair or a high chair.” Inclusion means identifying our differences and celebrating our sameness; it allows us to build on our common human experience.

Roots of Empathy celebrates diversity. Enlarging our perspective brings learning to everyone; 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.

Infant Safety
The Roots of Empathy program creates awareness of risk factors to babies and has a strong focus on abuse prevention. Children are never too young to learn about Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Roots of Empathy has been identified as an anti-bullying program. Because children are taught to understand how others feel and are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and inactions, pro-social behaviours rise and incidents of bullying and aggression fall.

What is the potential of this project to expand and develop? Edit

How can I get Roots of Empathy into my school / community /country?

Currently the program is active in all Canadian provinces. Please see the Contact Us page on our website for Canadian contact information

We also have programs in:

• New Zealand: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Rotorua
• United States: Washington State
• The Isle of Man
• Scotland
• Northern Ireland and
• the Republic of Ireland

Over the coming years, we plan to continue to expand the reach of Roots of Empathy. Typically programs are launched after community partnerships are formed, a lead agency is identified, and a great deal of development work is in place. We generally expect an initial three-year commitment to allow the program to become successful.

If you are outside Canada, and might be in a position to offer an initial three-year commitment, please feel welcome to share a description of the organization or group you represent and details about your interest in growing the program by emailing

All international expansion opportunities are coordinated through the International Office, based in Toronto.

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Roots of Empathy is an award-winning charitable organization.


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