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Bonding with baby teaches children to help, share

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By Heather Andrews Miller Sweetgrass Writer CALGARY







A program that has flourished in Alberta since 2002 is continuing to enhance the lives of families in urban, rural, Aboriginal and remote communities. With hundreds of community members trained to deliver Roots of Empathy, it has reached more than 64,000 children throughout the province.

“In the First Nations community we use the baby as a teacher because the children learn from the coming of the baby and its development and they can see the milestones and reflect on their own development,” said Sandy Vigrass, provincial manager for Alberta based in Calgary. 

Roots of Empathy is a 27-week program used across Canada and internationally. The curriculum was developed through regularly done research. Instructors are trained in a three-day session.

Incorporated in 2000, Roots of Empathy was named after its flagship evidence-based program, which was created in 1996 by Mary Gordon. Considered a model of social innovation, Roots of Empathy is a program for children in elementary school,with an accompanying program for children three to five years old in early childhood settings called Seeds of Empathy.At the heart of the program are classroom visits by an infant and parent. Through guided observations of this loving relationship, children learn to identify and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and those of others.

Independent evaluations consistently show children who receive Roots of Empathy experience dramatic and lasting effects such as sharing, helping and decreased aggression. The Assembly of First Nations endorsed the two programs by resolution at its July 2008 annual general meeting.

“We are beginning to increase our concentration in Aboriginal communities and have five programs in Hobbema this year,” said Vigrass.

Other locations where Roots of Empathy has run include Onion Lake, Saddle Lake and Alexander and there is interest in delivering it in Wabasca in the coming year where oil company Cenovus Energy is supporting the development.Other funders include the Alberta government and the United Way in Calgary.

Requests for the program come frequently to the Roots head office in Toronto.

“It has to be delivered during school hours so each school is a crucial partner, and the teachers are present so they can incorporate the principles learned into other areas,” said Vigrass.

 Once the leaders are trained, they remain as a valued resource in the community. As the program is offered to one grade each year, over the course of the students’ total attendance, they would all realize the benefits of the lessons.

 “A local person in the community acts as an administrator and is invaluable in assisting with the delivery of the program,” said Vigrass. “There are many ways to get involved at several levels and the benefits to the children benefit the whole community.”

In 2011, 454 programs are being delivered in the province.