From the roots up


An inclusive program is teaching elementary school-aged children in Pictou County to have empathy for others and respect and care for those younger than them.

The Roots of Empathy program has been around Pictou County for more than 10 years and is still making a strong impact on children.

Created by Mary Gordon, the Roots of Empathy program uses a baby as well as a teaching component to show children from ages five to 13 how to have empathy for others. Statistics have shown that the program helps to reduce aggression levels by increasing participants’ social and emotional competence. It is an international education program that helps reduce violence and teach empathy.

This school year, there are four programs taking place in Pictou County with the help of classrooms from different schools and moms who volunteer to take their two to four-month-old into the school to help teach and allow the kids to make a real-life connection to someone as they learn, grow and need help. Sensitivity to real-life situations is another component as well. In the county, the program is partnered up with Schools Plus to help deliver the education to different schools.

“The curriculum (for Roots of Empathy) matches what the kids are learning (in schools),” said Debby Turner, point person of the program in the county and a co-ordinator at Kids First in New Glasgow. Currently, the program is taking place with classes at Pictou Landing First Nations Elementary, New Glasgow Academy, Frank H. MacDonald Elementary School and Dr. W. A. MacLeod Consolidated School.

Skills are taught to the school children over a period of 27 classes with nine classes including a baby visit. A pre-lesson, a lesson with the baby and a recap of the lesson, are included for each of the topics.

Turner added that facilitators notice the program makes an impact on more than just the kids.

“It was all the people that were helping these little people that needed the empathy the most,” she said.

With a prevention approach to violence, the lessons from the program break things down for the young students to understand why they are important.

“It is neuroscience, but we break it down to their level,” said Jillian Hennick, one of the facilitators. The school kids learning also develop an attachment to the younger child during the program and will even recognize them later on. Some of the babies that have taken part in the program as infants also grow up to be on the other side of the program sometimes.

“That’s what it’s about — kindness,” Turner said.

Babies from the 2018 Roots of Empathy program enjoy some time at Kids First in New Glasgow, decked out in their official teaching onesies. From left are Sebastian Jennings, nine months old; Emmett Dykstra, nine months old; Cameron Mansour, eight months and Alexander Hayward, 7 1/2 months.

(Brimicombe photo)