Roots of Empathy

It’s not a revolutionary technology, it’s not artificial intelligence, it does not generate learning analytics – and yet it is a proven innovative strategy: Roots of Empathy is one of the ten innovations highlighted in the 2019 Innovating Pedagogy report. Broadly, Roots of Empathy is a program that can be implemented into a classroom and is designed for teaching empathy to children between the ages of 5 to 13. Observing the emotional state of an infant is used to promote positive emotional and social development in children.

The Roots of Empathy program was founded by Mary Gordon, a child advocate, author, educator, and parenting expert. The program was first implemented in Canada, but has since been implemented in classrooms in 12 countries, including the United States, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Germany, England, and Ireland. The program is offered for children from Kindergarten through 8th grade, with specialized curriculum based on age (there is a separate curriculum for Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, Grades 4-6 and Grades 7-8).

The effects of the Roots of Empathy program have been researched, and it has been shown to have a positive impact on many areas of children’s lives and development, including reducing levels of aggression, increasing empathy, as well as raising social and emotional competence (Schonert-Reichl, Smith, Zaidman-Zait & Hertzman, 2012). During this program, a baby and parent visit a school classroom. The baby and parent make this visit to the classroom once every three weeks throughout the entire school year. An instructor from the Roots of Empathy program assists the students in identifying the emotions that the baby is experiencing. Through identifying the baby’s emotions, the children also reflect on their own feelings. The program includes activities that have links to the classroom curriculum, including using math skills, as well as participating in literature, art and music activities. This program not only impacts the individual child’s social and emotional development, but also positively impacts classrooms and schools, through aiming to promote emotional awareness and responsibility for self and others.

The mission of Roots of Empathy is as follows: “to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.” This program has positive effects on children that have long-term impacts.



Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A., & Hertzman, C. (2012). Promoting children’s prosocial behaviors in school: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” program on the social and emotional competence of school-aged children. School Mental Health4(1), 1-21.

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