Growing Roots of Empathy at the OCSB

Despite the pandemic, six Ottawa Catholic School Board Kindergarten classes from different schools throughout the city participated in Roots of Empathy– a unique, evidence-based program designed to help children and adults grow in empathy by interacting with babies! The impact on learners is quite remarkable! Students who participate in this program demonstrate reduced levels of aggression as they increase their social and emotional competence.

Developing empathy in a meaningful context

The Roots of Empathy program brings together Registered Early Childhood Educators, Teachers, parents, babies and students and focuses on developing emotional literacy skills through meaningful activities and reflections. Students explore topics like body language, courage and bullying in a context that makes sense to them.

In a non-pandemic year, Kindergarten students would get to interact with a Roots of Empathy baby right in their classroom. This year, the program pivoted to a virtual model, allowing students to continue participating in this enriching program in an online context. “Although we are not able to have Baby Owen into our classroom physically, it has really been a bright spot in our learning day,” said Jennifer Bradley, Registered Early Childhood Educator and Certified Roots of Empathy Instructor from Thomas D’arcy McGee Catholic School.

Earlier in the year, her class learned about body language by observing the queues Baby Owen communicates through his body.  They went deeper with this lesson later in the year when they discussed bullying. They started the class by showing a picture of a crying baby and asked the students why they thought the baby was crying. As the students learned more about babies and how they communicate feelings, they could also reflect and consider scenarios that also make them feel sad. “We concluded this lesson by talking about how we all share the same feelings, Baby Owen, them and their teachers and principal who joined us for our lesson,” continued Ms. Bradley.

How the program is impacting learners

“Roots of Empathy has provided an opportunity for students to think about their feelings, the feelings of others, and how their actions can impact others. Even at this young age, they understand that their actions can affect others –positively and negatively” –Kim Hutchinson, Principal, Thomas D’Arcy McGee Catholic School

“This program gives the children the opportunity to develop and practise emotional literacy, which is the development of vocabulary to label their feelings. Through reflection of their feelings and expression of these feelings to others, children gain insights into how others feel.” Pamela Harling, Registered Early Childhood Educator and Certified Roots of Empathy Instructor from St. Benedict School.

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