Approximately three months into the “Roots of Empathy Program,” Ecole Providence instructor, Marie Anne Jones is excited with the response from the Grade 5 and 6 students taking part in the program.
“There are themes and every theme is composed of a pre-family visit where I do instruction with the students and the following Monday the mother and baby come in which is called the family visit,” says Jones. “And the following week we do a post family visit and examine and finalize that theme.”
The program, created to teach children emotional literacy involves a mother and her baby visiting the classroom periodically, giving the kids an opportunity to identify the growth of the baby’s cognitive ability and motor skills as the baby matures.
The babies must be between the age of 2 to 4 months at the beginning of the program and the same mother and child must visit in order for the kids to witness the full spectrum of that baby’s early development.
The program addresses how to take care of an infant, covering topics such as safety, infant death syndrome, crying and shaken baby syndrome, communication and the importance of love and nurture on brain development in a child.
There is tangible evidence showing that the program reduces aggression among schoolchildren by raising social and emotional awareness and increasing their capacity for empathy.
The program is for kids between K to Grade 8 and has seven themes in all with the mother and child visiting the school seven times throughout the year.
“Last year and the year before, I did the program with Grades one and two but this year I decided I wanted to try an older group and I actually find it a lot better with the older group,” says Jones. “The kids love it, they absolutely love it. They are always asking me in the hallway, ‘when is the baby coming’ but even when I have them when the baby is not here they are really into it. “
Acknowledging that the kids are particularly excited on the family days when they get to interact with the baby, Jones says that she is impressed that even on the days in between the kids are still interested and keen to learn the background information.
She notices that they like being prepared to ask questions when the mother, Alisha Milner and her six-month-old son Bentley attend the session and how the kids are curious to figure out what the baby has learned since the last visit.
When asked if she notices any difference between boys and girls she says they share a mutual interest.
“You would think that the girls would be into it more but I am finding there is no difference,” she says. “The boys are just as interested.”
Marie Anne Jones had to teach the program for a year before being classified as a “Roots of Empathy” instructor and having presented the class to Grades 1 and 2 and Grades 5 and 6 she is enthusiastic about the merits of the program.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she says. “As I said, so far I have done it with the lower Grades and the lower Grades are good too because it is tiered for them, but I just find the Grade 5 and 6 level are just so much more involved in it and getting more out of it.”
Jones talks about the extent of what the kids learn through the program, how she teaches them about different temperament traits in the baby: is he highly active, is he very emotional, does he handle transitions well and things of that nature.
“You break it down and then you put it back into perspective to them,” she says. “I say, now that you see that babies are like this, that all babies are different, so now you see that you are all different. And I ask them, how do you all react when you get frustrated or angry, scared or embarrassed. And one will say I act this way and another will say no I would behave like this. They tie it in so they can be more compassionate and have more empathy.”
To put the value of the program in real terms, Jones tells an interesting story regarding how she witnessed firsthand the positive results of the “Roots of Empathy” program.
“Last year when I did the program with Grades one and two, fortunately my grandson and granddaughter were in it. This summer I was at my mom’s with those two grandchildren and a little baby was there. Just watching the way my grandchildren were talking to the baby, how they were noticing the baby’s reactions, it was everything they had learned from the Roots of Empathy.”