Friday, January 3, 2014

Roots of Empathy

I've been meaning to post this for a long time! But here it is finally. So last school year (2012-2013) we were able to participate in the Roots of Empathy program at a local elementary school. My next door neighbor is a counselor at a school where they had the program in the 3rd grade classrooms last year. We had a wonderful time participating, but unfortunately because of funding and/or politics, the program is not being offered next year. Here is the website of the program (

Basically, the children in the classroom get to watch the baby (called the teacher - see shirt below) grow and learn throughout the year. They interact with the baby and are encouraged to think about and label the baby's feelings and emotions. They also learn about a variety of topics surrounding babies including crying, safety, neuroscience (learning and development), milestones, sleep, eating, preparation, nursery rhymes, coping with stress, etc. The children learn about how to foster healthy relationships with their peers by watching the relationship between the mother and baby. I think it is a beautiful concept that the most basic human relationship, between a  mother and child, can be a model of empathy and can influence all of our other relationships throughout life. Bringing a baby into the classroom is a novel way to get the attention of the children, and teach them about caring for each other. One of the goals of the program is to reduce instances of bullying, and it has been shown to do that in studies in Canada.

At our first classroom visit in September

Geneva wore a T-shirt that said "teacher" on it at each class visit. The children all gathered around a green blanket each week and sang us a welcome song ("Hello Baby Geneva, how are you?", and "Hello Mama Tori, how are you?") as I walked around and let them each greet her individually. Then we'd learn about what Geneva had learned since our last visit, and the kids could ask questions to see what she could do. I would respond with "yes" or "not yet". I think they asked every time if she could walk or crawl yet, even at 3 months old. The children then got to interact with Geneva with some toys as we talked about her emotions and whatever the topic was. At the end they would sing a goodbye song and I'd walk around again. It was fun to see each of the kids' faces light up as the baby came up to them. There was one little boy who was particularly shy, but he would make eye contact with Geneva and get really excited when she would notice him.

It was fun to see how attentive they were to every little thing she would do. If she made any noise, the kids would all immediately get quiet and then get really excited afterwards. Since Geneva was a little slow on her motor skills, there were a few months were every little move she made would elicit laughter and applause.

We had a very talkative class who loved to share by asking questions and giving comments. Someone would raise their hand and say, "Well actually, I don't have a question, I just have a comment" and then proceed to tell us about something funny they did (or a sibling did) when they were a baby. It was pretty funny how often it happened. In one classroom visit, we set up a high chair and gave Geneva a new food - a slice of mango. At the end of the year, almost all of the kids said that was their favorite class visit. Another little boy also said his favorite visit was when Geneva was just starting to scoot around in circles. He said, "I just have to be honest with you, it was just really really cute."

At the end of year ROE gathering with Mrs. Christensen

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