Building Children’s Social Skills Using Curriculum-Based Program

Empathy can be instilled in children when they are given the opportunity to work with or be with those who are more helpless than them reports News Kamloops.  Below is the rest of the story about this curriculum-based program offered at The Kamloops-Thompson School District.

IT’S AMAZING what can happen when children are given opportunities to learn about and empathize with those who are more helpless than them. That important social connection is the basis for Roots of Empathy, an anti-bullying program that began in Toronto 20 years ago and has expanded to thrive in Canada and many other countries, today.

The Kamloops Thompson School District is one of several B.C. districts that partners to offer the curriculum-based program, which involves introducing a neighborhood family with a baby to elementary school classrooms.

Roots of Empathy is delivered by trained instructors over 27 weeks, usually from October to early June, to schools that have applied to host the program in classrooms from Kindergarten to Grade 7. Instructors visit students weekly for up to 40 minutes and introduce grade-appropriate lesson plans focused on social and emotional health during infant development and through childhood.

Nine of the 27 lessons include a visit to the classroom by the baby and parents. The instructor preps the class the week before the baby visit, and follows up with the class the week after to reflect on what was learned while baby and parents were there. Children sit in a group on the floor and observe the baby, ask questions of the parents, and talk about their own feelings and those of the baby.

Follow up research by Roots of Empathy over the years has revealed children who complete the program express more feelings, are kinder to friends and can be less aggressive towards others. Students have also been observed to visibly “light up” when the babies come in to their classrooms.

In School District 73, the program is delivered through a partnership with Interior Community Services in Kamloops, which is responsible for liaising with Roots of Empathy, connecting with families and assigning them to classrooms. Val Janz, who coordinates this process on behalf of Interior Community Services, says in more than 10 years of offering the program about 50 instructors have been trained by Roots of Empathy to teach an average of 20 classrooms in the district, per year.

Instructors are recruited from a variety of fields including social workers, family support workers, ECE teachers, retired teachers, education assistants, recreation workers, police officers and firefighters, and many others who work with families and children.

Instructors encourage students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. The program also focuses on risks to babies and includes information and discussions on such issues such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Kathy Price, a retired teacher who worked with Janz and a community team to initiate Roots of Empathy in School District 73, says it’s an outstanding social responsibility program that is evidence-based and has proven over many years to be effective in promoting pro-social behavior while decreasing aggression in children who are enrolled in the program.

Because the training and implementation is closely monitored and supported by the Roots of Empathy organization, we can be sure that the program delivers what it promises. Empathy is the foundation social skill upon which all other pro-social behaviours depend, so The Roots of Empathy Program truly does reach to the root of the issue of bullying and aggression in schools.

Cara McKelvey is a trustee on the School District 73 school board.


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