World-renowned, emotional literacy program “Roots of Empathy,” offered at local schools

Left, Crystal Marschner, Family Youth Program Coordinator for Smoky River FCSS, with Christina Griffin and her baby, Adalyn, at Ecole Routhier on Oct. 20. During the “Roots of Empathy” session, Marschner had teacher Taryn Aucoin’s Grade 1E students sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Litte Star’ to Adalyn.

Tom Henihan
Express Staff

Routhier School, Ecole Providence and Eaglesham School are offering the “Roots of Empathy” FCSS program during the 2017–2018 school year.

The program, designed to teach children emotional literacy, asks a mother with her baby to volunteer to visit the classroom to allow the students to observe and identify the baby’s cognitive ability and motor skills development as he or she matures.

The babies participating in the program must be between 2 and 4 months of age, in order for the kids to witness the full spectrum of early development.

The program addresses how to take care of an infant, the importance of love and the role nurture plays on brain development in a child.

The sessions cover nine salient topics including meeting the baby, safety, communication, caring for a baby, infant death syndrome, crying and shaken baby syndrome.

We talk about fetal alcohol syndrome, we talk about smoking while pregnant and when we talk about crying we also discuss shaken baby syndrome,” says FCSS Youth Program Coordinator, Crystal Marschner. “We tell the kids that it is perfectly natural for babies to cry but that it is not right to shake the baby.”

Over a period of twenty-seven classes throughout the year, the mother and her baby visit the students nine times.

At the first class there are photographs of the baby, the students learn the age of the infant and make predictions as to what they think the baby might be able to do.

The classes dispel many of the students’ preconceptions regarding child development and give them a more realistic view, illustrating that every baby develop at a different pace.

This year in the area we actually have five classes going on, which is big,” says Marschner. “The program goes for one period and I try to cram as much information into that block as I can, because especially when you get the baby in the classroom the kids are more focused on watching the baby than on all the information you need to get out.”

In the Roots of Empathy program the kids, the mother and instructor sing songs to the baby until the baby starts to recognize those songs.

We watch the development of the child from the head down,” says Marschner. “For instance, when they are born they don’t know that they can use their hands and then the kids watch each time the baby comes in and how the baby is gradually able to grab the toys with its hands. Then they get to a point where they are developing their legs when they try to sit or are trying to crawl. So it is really neat for the kids to see the child’s progress.”

Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based program developed in Toronto in 1996 by educator, author, child advocate and Order of Canada recipient Mary Gordon.

The program has had a marked influence on reducing aggression and bullying among schoolchildren and enhancing their social and emotional abilities while also developing their powers of empathy.

Following extensive research to measure its effectiveness, the program is now recognized worldwide to be among the top one hundred school programs making a substantial difference in children lives.

The program has running in this region for eleven years and Chrystal Marchner has offered it for the past seven years, 5 years in Slave Lake and this being her second year providing it with Falher FCSS.

Marchner will give three programs at Routhier School and one at Eaglesham School and Marie Anne Jones will offer the program at Ecole Providence.

The mothers who participate in the program volunteer to bring their baby in and commit to the nine visits as it is important that the same baby comes in so the students can observe that individual child’s development.

We are currently looking for a mother and baby for the French Language classes in Heritage and Routhier,” says Marchner. “And the mom would have to commit to four days of training before participating.

Anyone mothers wishing to participate in the French Language program should visit Crystal Marchner at the FCSS office in Falher or call: (780) 837-2220.

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