Mary Gordon on how being home together is an opportunity


Note: We’ll be producing messages from Mary and other resources for parents and teachers often during this coronavirus pandemic in order to stay in touch, offer some comfort, offer some hope, and work together to get through these unprecedented times. Our programs are halted around the world, and our staff and teams everywhere are working from home. Still, we can find time to be connected, to offer support, and to share our experiences. 


By Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy

It’s an incredible time for children to see us coming together to care, share, and be mindful of each other. Our communities are coming together in spirit, if not in body, to make sure we defeat this pandemic. We are seeing people helping people – whether they’re playing music on their balconies, or buying groceries for neighbours, or posting silly dance videos on TikTok – when we show care and kindness, when we support, when we willingly self-isolate, when we simply entertain – we’re showing our children the best of ourselves.

I love seeing how teachers are virtually reaching out to their students. When the Shedd Aquarium closed its doors to the public last week and let their penguins out of their enclosure, a teacher had a brilliant idea. The aquarium had posted a video of the penguins wandering bewildered from exhibit to exhibit looking at the fish tanks. A teacher asked her students to send her either an email or a video of what they thought the penguins might be thinking and feeling. Isn’t that perfect? I wonder what the children said. I guarantee their answers showed their funny side, their serious side, and reflected their own state of being.

We conducted a survey in three countries, asking 9-year-olds when they were they most happy. The overwhelming response was “when I’m with my whole family.” This time together at home, as a family, is an opportunity.

This is not just a chance for children to spend time with you, it’s a chance for you to look at your children – really watch them and listen to them. In the way we ask our students around the Green Blanket to interpret the cues the baby is sending to her mother, this is a chance for you to interpret your child’s cues.

You can use this time to build your capacity to understand where your children are coming from; to use a different lens to interpret their behaviour. We tend to be impatient or critical when it comes to our children’s negative behaviour. Behind every behaviour is emotion. You can help your children with their emotional language – help them with words they can use to express their feelings.

It’s also a chance for you to put a lens on your own feelings and state of being. We’re all anxious. Our children are watching. They watch us all the time. They can see how we take in stress, what we do with our pain, how it affects us when we try to ignore our feelings and shut them down.

But they also see you reaching out and helping family, friends, neighbours. They see you creating strength and resolve by cooperating and bringing to life the adage – alone we go faster, together we go farther.

Your home is a child’s first and most important learning environment. Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where the start is.

So here’s a chance to create space to talk about feelings – to make sure we don’t bury them, but give them oxygen. Oxygen and sunshine – the great sanitizers. Taking the power out of stress and anxiety, giving space to voice fear and confusion, and then space to find connection, confidence, and courage….ultimately to let the children know they are safe and they are loved.

Stay safe. Stay well.



March 25th, 2020

Teacher care

One of the benefits of our program is that the teacher doesn’t teach it. That may sound weird. But we consider it a gift to the teacher. We train Instructors to deliver our curriculum. And the teacher gets to watch. Getting time to observe students is a gift. Often the Instructor will ask the teacher to take photos of the students during the visits with their parent and baby. And often teachers tell us they see sides of their students they don’t see during the regular school day – their vulnerabilities, their fears, their joys, their anger, their love of love.
It’s perspective taking, right? One of the core elements of empathy. Learning to understand students on another level. Learning about their temperaments and how they work. Getting to observe and reflect and participate in the program, instead of running it, gives teachers perspective.
Another dimension to this is allowing teachers time to consider their own temperaments. A classroom culture is a dynamic swirl of different temperaments – and how often do teachers get a chance to consider how they bring out the best (or maybe worst) in their students, or their students bring out in them?
Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy’s Founder/President, is speaking at the Leadership Committee for English Educators in Quebec this week. And she’s talking about teachers and wellbeing. The statistics on teacher burnout are well known. A recent fascinating study found the more stressed a parent is (and, arguably, a teacher), the less attuned they are to their child. So, teacher wellbeing is getting more attention. Because teacher wellbeing plays an important role in the development of a healthy learning environment.
Wellbeing gets talked about a lot. Its power sometimes gets lost in its trend. But there is something profound and fundamental about our beings being well, isn’t there? Various experts tinker with different parts of wellbeing, and every one seems to have a different definition. The word wellbeing may be difficult to define itself, but its elements aren’t. It all adds up to wellbeing. Just like empathy – its elements are easier to quantify than empathy itself – but, you know it when you see it. A teacher with a sense of wellbeing creates an atmosphere of wellbeing. The alchemy of it means a healthy learning environment for everyone and a connection.

Mary was asked to contribute a chapter to the book Crisis of Connection produced by PACH (Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity) at NYU. Roots of Empathy was exemplified as a solution to the 21st century’s “’crisis of connection’ stemming from growing alienation, social isolation, and fragmentation characterizes modern society.” Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote:

Children wear their pain in their behavior. Challenging behavior should be met not with exclusion but with inclusion and understanding…

Building connections between teachers and students is a positive step in building connection in society. Imagine if teachers developed the capacity to understand their students’ temperaments, to see their vulnerabilities, to see where they’re coming from. Roots of Empathy gives teachers the chance to reflect on their students’ temperaments, but also their own. Are they too sensitive? Do they respond intensely to certain things? Are they calm? It’s good to know what they’re sensitive about. It’s good to know if they’re very emotionally reactive, and it’s good to know if they have difficulty down-regulating their reactions. They need to know how to handle themselves. They have to acknowledge themselves.

And it’s nowhere in teacher preparation. Nowhere is there any sense of “Know Thyself.” It’s not the curriculum teachers bring to the children. It’s themselves. A child starts first grade not with reading, writing, and math, but with her teacher. And how that teacher responds to that child is pretty much how that child will see herself.

I believe the classroom is a society. We build a community in that classroom. It’s the second most influential community in a child’s life. The ethic of care comes alive in that classroom, or not.

At our speakers series and at our research symposia we have heard many times that it took just one teacher to make a difference in their lives – one teacher who listened, understood, knew them, empathized, and who changed their lives. One speaker said she became a teacher because she had only one teacher, one, who was kind. And that made all the difference. We like to say we help children grow their empathy not just for others, but for themselves. Teachers who invest in their own wellbeing are being kind and empathic to themselves…but also to their students. And they can change the world.





February 11th, 2020

Volunteering was the highlight of my week


I arrive at my Grade Four Roots of Empathy classroom a few minutes early and wait in the hallway for the door to open. Math class is almost over and Roots of Empathy is next. Smiling faces dart over to the window in the door –the students know I’m there and they can’t wait for their lesson with Baby Thomas, his mom Maureen, and me.

Every three weeks, Baby Thomas and his mom joined me on the green blanket with 28 students and their classroom teacher. When Thomas first began his work as a Tiny Teacher, he was just four months old. He couldn’t sit or stand or walk. He couldn’t crawl. He could hardly hold his head up when laying on his tummy, a position he didn’t like at all. He loved being near his mom and she loved holding him. I remember all of this very well because we talked about it in class.



In our year together, the students learned about Baby Thomas’s temperament by watching him. He didn’t give up trying to grasp a small ball just beyond his reach. We determined that he was persistent. When he finally grabbed the ball, the students erupted with joy. When he was upset at being placed on his tummy on the green blanket, he fussed, he didn’t scream. We determined that he had low intensity, with milder reactions. We saw that when offered new things, such as a food he had never eaten, he was willing to give it a try. We determined his first reaction to new things was adventurous. Even so, Baby Thomas often looked back at his mom for reassurance. We talked about his attachment to Maureen and how her loving and reassuring response helped him move out into the world. We learned that Baby Thomas loved music, especially when mom Maureen would move his body to the songs. We asked Maureen about that and she said she and Thomas attended a weekly neighbourhood music class because he loves music so much.

One day Baby Thomas arrived asleep in his stroller. We imagined what it would be like for him to be awakened by a loud welcome song and instead sang quietly. He woke slowly and wide-eyed, ready for his class.
We tracked Thomas’s development – how he grew, what he could do now and what he could not do ‘yet’. We
learned that we all develop at our own unique pace, just as Baby Thomas does.

We looked for his emotional and behavioural cues. As instructor, I guided the children to identify and reflect on
Baby Thomas’s feelings and then on their own feelings and the feelings of others. They learned that babies cry
because they are hungry, but also when they are lonely. They learned that babies smile when they are excited, and when they are included in activities. The children talked about how they feel when they are hungry or tired or lonely or left out.

Our close observations and reflections of Baby Thomas’s temperament traits helped us to get to know Baby
Thomas – what he needed and wanted. I guided the children to reflect on their own unique temperaments.
Were they high or low intensity? Persistent? Did they tend to have cautious or adventurous first reactions? What did they need or want? What, and who, helped them?

All of this happened in a 30–40 minute lesson every three weeks during a school year. Before and after each
visit with Baby Thomas and Mom Maureen, I visited the class with curriculum activities to prepare and reinforce
the learning. The children were given a safe place to express their feelings through stories, artwork, music and
discussion. And they did.

At the end of the school year, when the classroom teacher asked the students what Roots of Empathy meant to them, one boy said ‘We are a classroom of caregivers.’

This warmed my heart.


– Excerpt from Roots of Empathy: Developing Empathy, Reducing Aggression, Barnardos UK Childlinks Journal. By Cheryl Jackson, Director, Communications and Marketing, Roots of Empathy. You can read the article here.





January 29th, 2020

Join us in building empathy


Welcome to the twenties!

Join us in making a resolution to build empathy. In a world where our differences increasingly tend to alienate us from one another, we need empathy so we can connect with each other and form healthy relationships.

So, let’s start with children.

Let’s give them the tools they need to understand and help each other now, and later, when they are parents, co-workers, leaders.

Here are 5 things to help get you started.


1. Listen to children

Do you follow us on social media? (please do if you don’t – see the links at the bottom of the website)

If you do, then you might have seen our 12 Days of Wishes. We publish them every year, and they’re a window into children’s minds – their hopes, dreams and feelings for ‘their’ baby.

We’ve gathered all 12 from the recent holiday season on one page. Enjoy the scroll.



2. Let children draw

“Picasso said all children are artists until they are told they’re not. I feel that all children are musicians and painters and dancers too. It is their way to express every emotion from joy to sorrow – and it gives them a form of language, even before they can label their feelings. Their work reaches out to touch others, to create empathy and a sense of belonging, and the feeling that they’re not alone.” – Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy Founder and President.

Right from the start Mary Gordon made art an integral part of Roots of Empathy. Watch our slide show, with context from Mary Gordon, to understand why.

3. Let children play

Play. Remember that? Freedom, focus, joy.

As adults we forget to play, but children NEED to play. “Children are at their most joyful when they are with their families – and at play…Without free, unstructured time to be creative, to let the imagination flow, curiosity fades. Children don’t become problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative thinkers. When curiosity fades, entrepreneurship fades, political ideas fade, progress fades. Children’s brains are built on experience and the deepest learning happens in self-created experiences.” – Mary Gordon, Founder and President.

In this Roots of Empathy Speaker Series presentation Alison Gopnik argues that children need time and space to explore and come up with new ways of thinking and doing.



4. Read with children

You know what it’s like to be engrossed in a novel, right? You learn the characters’ thoughts, feelings, what drives them, what scares them, what makes them happy. You root for them – sometimes. You FEEL for them.

When we read with children, they learn to understand the world through the characters too. How does that happen? Dr. Raymond Mar is an expert on this and he spoke on our panel about Empathy and the Arts.

5. Help children make sense of their world

Dr. Dan Siegel, who presented the keynote at the 2017 Roots of Empathy Research Symposium, has written a blog that helps us to understand The Psychological Effects of the Conflicting Stories We Hear.

“As babies, our connection to our caregivers—our attachment figures—provides us not only with comfort and connection, but a way of making sense of our experiences. Life “makes sense” when our experience matches up with how those we are close to respond to us, as well with the messages we receive in the stories they tell.

Dr. Siegel suggests that today’s world offers conflicting truths and can leave us feeling distressed, and he has a solution. You can read his blog here.

If you’d like to hear more from Dr. Siegel, watch his 2017 presentation.







January 21st, 2020

Wishes from the heart

Our Roots of Empathy students fall in love with their baby teacher. And every year, toward the end of the program, we ask them to make a wish for their baby; something they’d wish for if the baby were their age. The answers are incredible. They reflect everything that’s important in their lives at that moment – from successfully cartwheeling, or being a hockey player, to their fears – of the dark, of spiders, of being bullied, to their joys. And it’s empathy – it’s sensing how their baby would feel in each wish, and wishing them the best. It is truly the heart made visible.

We pick 12 of them to post on our social media channels at the end of every year – and we pair them with some of our favourite photos from the year. Here they are for you on one page to enjoy.






January 8th, 2020



We can’t get enough of Romario.


Romario is a Grade 7 student in Toronto. He came with his teacher and classmates to our 2019 Research Symposium to tell us what it was like for them to have Roots of Empathy in their class.

We hear about the impact of Roots of Empathy all the time – from students, teachers, Roots of Empathy Instructors.  We know the program has a positive impact. We also have two decades of research that proves the program works – that it reduces aggression and bullying, and increases prosocial behaviours.

But Romario had a way of putting it that blew us all away.  He revealed how the program affects children, from the inside.

“Every time Roots of Empathy happens in our class, I am happy. I start to feeler softer. Happier. Calm.

And just joyful.

It’s like Roots of Empathy just changed us.”

Thank you Romario, teacher Tom, and classmates for sharing your stories with us.


Here’s Romario telling us how Roots of Empathy has changed him and his classmates.   It will make your day.








December 10th, 2019

The power of a tiny teacher

Often there are times in Roots of Empathy when a student hangs back, and doesn’t want to participate fully. We’re fine with that – we respect a child’s wish. But we know they watch. And they watch carefully. Such was the case with a Grade 5 student in Alberta during our 6th family visit in the year.

He has been part of Roots of Empathy for two years in a row now. But he’s never taken part. In fact, in the 5th visit he didn’t even want to be in the classroom. But something happened between the 5th and 6th visits. Having hung back during the first visits, out of the blue, he told the Instructor he wanted to sing a nursery rhyme to the baby. So she invited him on the blanket to sing one on one to the baby. He chose to sing a round of “All Around the Mulberry Bush.”

But the baby didn’t look up. Didn’t even notice him.

So the boy started singing the song again.

And the baby looked up.

The boy sang it a third time and this time the baby was completely hooked.
He stared and stared at the boy. And then he smiled.

“This is perhaps one of the most heartfelt moments I have had throughout ANY of my programs,” Roots of Empathy Instructor, Darcy Hoover, told us.

When we posted this to social media, this story got thousands of reads. We emailed Darcy to thank her, and this was her response: “Good Morning everyone. Despite the dump of snow I woke up to, this message was such a beautiful thing to see first thing in the morning! I’m glad that I was able to share it and I’m even more grateful for the impact that the Roots of Empathy program has world wide! The class was so excited when I told them their baby is “famous.” As a quick follow up, this student has now been fully engaged in the program. He now sits right beside me in every lesson and is actively participating. The teacher has also said that she has noticed a difference in him in the classroom with day to day learning and peer participation.”

It was about connection at its best.


Have you seen an impact in a Roots of Empathy program? Let us know! mail@rootsofempathy.org




December 4th, 2019

Mary Gordon receives honorary degree in Ireland

Mary Gordon holding honorary degree wearing cap and gown at NUI Galway.

Roots of Empathy’s Founder/President Mary Gordon had a homecoming to Ireland – one of the first countries to embrace Roots of Empathy. The National University of Ireland – Galway saw fit to confer upon her the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.

“Mary is an internationally recognised, award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate, parenting expert and creator of the Roots of Empathy program.”

Dr. Rachel Hilliard at NUIGalway nominated Mary – here’s why, she said:

“There’s a saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now. Mary Gordon began planting seeds of empathy to bear fruit decades ahead.

Mary Gordon’s work has been dedicated to improving the lives of children, in the service of her larger ambition – to improve society. She knows that empathy allows us to say ‘I hear how you are feeling, and I know I have felt the same way. We are alike.’ She says that ‘if we are able to take the perspective of the Other we will notice and appreciate our commonalities and we will be less likely to allow differences to cause us to marginalize, hate or hurt each other. It will no longer be possible for us to hive off a group and dehumanize them.’

Her extraordinary insight was to identify that by working now with very young children to develop empathy and emotional literacy she could give those children an understanding of what is it to be a connected and competent parent, and so influence future generations for the better. The university recognises Mary Gordon’s unique contribution to the development of society and as a pioneer of children’s education and an social innovator.”

In her remarks to the graduating students Mary said, “Life is more than a checklist, and more important than your CV are your relationships.”

She noted Ireland’s “deep wells of empathy” and said “we need to plumb those wells now more than ever.”

NUI Galway President, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said, “NUI Galway is fortunate to be associated with many outstanding honorary graduates throughout its history and those being honoured this year form a particularly distinguished group. Each one has made an excellent and distinctive contribution to the diverse fields of adult and continuing education; children’s rights, journalism and broadcasting; international social entrepreneurship; research, development and innovation; activism for social change; contribution to society, human rights and our defence forces. NUI Galway is very pleased to be in a position to respect and recognise these exceptional individuals.”

Thank you NUI Galway for recognizing Mary’s life and work.


For more here is NUIGalway’s press release

November 13th, 2019

We’ve been selected for the HundrED 2020 collection – third year running





Wow!  For the third year Roots of Empathy has been selected as one of the world’s top innovations in education by HundrED.org, a Finland based organization. We are honoured to be included with organizations and programs around the world that are making a positive impact on children.

Here’s how HundrED describes its work

“HundrED.Org is a not-for-profit organization which seeks and shares inspiring innovations in K12 education.

Our goal is to help improve education and inspire a grassroots movement by encouraging pedagogically sound, ambitious innovations to spread across the world.

The purpose of education is to help every child flourish, no matter what happens in life.

In a fast changing world focusing on traditional academic skills will remain important, but that is not enough. To thrive as global citizens, children must be equipped with a breadth of skills.”

HundrED does its research. To date, they’ve reviewed 3000 education innovations and selected in 38 countries.

In order to be chosen, innovations must

  • be impactful
  • be scalable
  • make valuable improvement
  • have evidence
  • be adaptable

We are all of that and more!

Thank you HundrED.org for recognizing how Roots of Empathy equips children with the skills they will need to thrive as global citizens, and for sharing that with the world.




November 7th, 2019

The seed that became Roots of Empathy


The Baby Celebration in Toronto in 2019 shows how the kernel of an idea way back, planted in 1996 has grown. We are proud that almost one million children around the world have had Roots of Empathy in their classroom.

By Mary Gordon

I remember it was Monday morning. We had our parenting program that morning. And Amy hadn’t come. That wasn’t good. It had happened before. So, on my way home, I stopped by her place.

Amy was a mother before she was out of her teens. She had a little girl. She had had a rough time growing up. Her mother was an alcoholic who had physically abused Amy. And now Amy was trying to bring up her own little girls.

Amy answered the door. Her face was badly bruised with a cut across her eyebrow from her glasses. Her boyfriend had hit her again. She told me she didn’t want to come to the program because the other teen mothers would tell her to leave him. She said, “He’s really sorry, he’s never going to do it again. And he loves me.”

Amy’s little daughter was clinging to her leg and her infant daughter was in her arms.

This moment was etched in my mind because I could see her little girls growing up to repeat the pattern of her mother’s life.

I saw families suffering through domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. Many young parents I worked with grew up in an environment where violence was a form of communication – where a nurturing style of parenting was absent. I saw, firsthand, the damage caused when children were robbed of the sense of self-worth that is a normal part of a secure, early relationship with parents.

I could see the common denominator:  the absence of empathy from the perpetrator.

My experience led me to wonder if one is ever too young to learn what makes a good parent, to realize what a baby needs to get a good start in life.

That day, Amy jolted me into the transformative moment that crystallized my thinking about the need to break the intergenerational transmission of violence and negative patterns of parenting. Amy was barely out of her teens and trapped in the toxic belief that this was normal, that negative attention was inevitable – and better than no attention at all – even at the risk of violence to herself and her children. The challenge was to prevent her little daughters from following in their mother’s footsteps; the challenge was to find a way out of repeating the cycle of violence and poor parenting that was being passed on from one generation to the next.

I wanted to prove birth is not destiny. It’s never too early to learn what makes a good parent. Attachment gone wrong can unravel a person’s life. I started Roots of Empathy to give children the opportunity to spend a whole year with a deep connection to a neighborhood parent and infant who naturally demonstrate secure attachment and attunement, and are the best model of empathy. That relationship can determine the quality of all relationships across the lifespan.

Roots of Empathy is a universal program. It’s not just for those who have been dealt a difficult hand in life. It’s for everyone. All children need to develop an appreciation of their own uniqueness, to find their voice, and, through developing empathy, learn how to make friends and be in relationships. They learn how to be connected. And, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Today marks the start again in Canada of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Stats from the Canadian Women’s Foundation tell us that approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. According to the Department of Justice, Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. 67% of Canadians say they have personally known at least one woman who has experienced physical sexual abuse. And Aboriginal woman are killed at six times the rate of non-aboriginal woman.

I lost touch with Amy. I don’t know what happened to her or her children. I wish she knew what her experience inspired. Thousands of babies, thousands of volunteers, and almost one million children in 14 countries have now experienced Roots of Empathy.

We’ve been at it for more than two decades. We keep going because if we can spark empathy in children, we really believe they can change the world in ways we can’t imagine. They are the citizens, leaders, and very importantly, the parents of tomorrow. They will determine the world they want. And so we plant the seeds of empathy today, in the hope that our children will build a kinder and more empathic world tomorrow.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation offers a fact sheet: Violence Against Women in Canada


November 1st, 2019

Five Inspiring Innovators


How great is this? HundrED.org, an organization based in Finland, names the most inspiring education innovations
in the world, and we’re one of them!


We’re a little chuffed but mostly we’re so happy that our programs are being picked up around the world,
reaching more children, developing more empathy, and contributing to a more civil society.


“The seed of all social innovation is empathy. I’m honoured to be part of the HundrED global community
of educators who are changing the world with their innovations,” says Roots of Empathy Founder and
President Mary Gordon.






What’s interesting about this article is that it recognizes that there are many factors that contribute to a child’s
education and well-being.

  • it can be as simple as allowing children to sit on the floor rather than at a desk if that’s how they learn best
  • using virtual guest speakers and field trips to excite children about what is yet to be discovered in science
  • supporting teachers to provide joyful learning experiences (Joyful!)
  • and teaching children to grow their own food, at school, and letting them take it home to their families.


We salute all of these programs, we salute their founders and we salute the people who bring them to children
around the world.


“Many of us will remember that one teacher who totally changed the way we viewed our lives
and who opened the doors of possibility for us.”


In Roots of Empathy of course, the baby is the teacher, and the experience over the school year with
that baby, watching them grow and develop, relating to their feelings, observing the attachment between
baby and parent – that’s what opens the doors of possibility for children.


Want to learn more about Roots of Empathy and Founder President Mary Gordon?


What we do and why we do it?


Here’s a pretty good snapshot –  our HundrED.org page.  (It includes a sweet video from the classroom too.)





October 7th, 2019

My year as a Roots of Empathy Instructor – Rebecca Leslie


Roots of Empathy volunteer instructor plays with baby on the green blanket with students and mom watching
Roots of Empathy Instructor Rebecca Leslie with Baby Kinsley, Mom Sarah and Grade 3 students at Gateway Elementary School in Toronto

I had the incredible privilege of volunteering with Roots of Empathy the very first year my family and I moved to Ontario. What a strong, timeless message that we send to kids, parents, and the community: tucked safely within relationships which are secure and nurturing, empathy blossoms and, from that, the world becomes a little bit kinder, one child at a time.

As luck would have it, I got to teach the Roots of Empathy program in a Grade 3 class hosting a mother who is also a valued teacher at the same school! On maternity leave with our teaching baby, our Roots of Empathy mom still maintained strong connections with many of the children and facilitated my bonding with the students.

We watched our baby Kinsley for communication signs to indicate hunger, fatigue, excitement, and over stimulation. We focused on the unique bond and attunement between mother and child, fascinated by how baby Kinsley’s unique character and independence developed over the 10 months with her. We learned about the realities and responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with parenting: changing diapers, feeding, and safety, to name a few. We greeted our baby with songs, celebrated first teeth as well as first steps, and engaged with her in stimulating activities. We became familiar with temperament and what that means for our tiny teacher as well as for ourselves. Finally, we addressed issues that are common to both babies and humans of all ages: we all have unique needs, crave safety and security, and can learn to better interpret our own and others’ emotions. Most importantly, we learned that by understanding our baby’s, our own, and our classmates’ commonalities and differences, we can also strive to develop empathy for everyone.

One of my favorite moments in our classroom was reading storybooks after baby Kinsley’s visits which flawlessly linked universal concepts to what we had just learned about her. The dedicated classroom teacher and I would then engage in challenging conversations with these young thinkers and help them link these concepts to similar, familiar experiences. Another valuable and unexpected take-away for me that first year with Roots of Empathy was that my then 5-year-old son learned about babies, attunement and empathy in such a unique way as I prepared my material at home. Without ever meeting our baby, my own son learned so much just by hearing about my experiences and seeing pictures of Kinsley as she grew.

At the year-end baby celebration for Toronto, one of my students from Syria was asked to speak. Nervous speaking in a second language he was so committed to learning, he was able to convey the essential message that our class took away that year: everyone wants to feel safe, heard, appreciated, and understood, regardless of age, background, or life experience.

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that teaching Roots of Empathy in that classroom made a world of difference for those kids who have now brought empathy and understanding into their own unique contexts. Empathy and kindness have a contagion effect and I am overjoyed to be part of this social change!


Rebecca Leslie, Roots of Empathy Instructor


To hear Rebecca Leslie and mom Sarah Walker talk about their experience in the classroom, you can listen to their radio interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Hear and Now.



September 4th, 2018

10-year-olds open up about Roots of Empathy


Sometimes – well, a lot of times – kids get it. Really get it. They’re learning sponges and when the learning is experiential, it goes deep. And changes them.

You can see a remarkable example of that in a recent CNN report from London, UK, where 10-year-olds in a Roots of Empathy class room explain what has happened to them and their classmates with the help of ‘their’ baby Evelyn – powerful Baby Evelyn.


cnn baby holding clear glass orb children and adults in background


From Mohammad: “Before it was rough and … no one listened but once Evelyn came we started to get calm.”

From Abrahim: “Before I’d be like, to be honest, I was a bit mean to some people, but now I’ve changed a lot and I’m kind to my friends.”

Eighteen years of research shows that with Roots of Empathy bullying goes down and prosocial behaviours such as helping, caring, sharing and including go up, but it’s comments like these that bring that research to life. It’s very real.

It works for many reasons, one of which is the Roots of Empathy instructor who guides the children through their experience by asking questions, not telling.  “When you’re feeling upset or a bit frustrated, how do you regulate yourself?  What do you do to make sure you feel a bit calmer?” The children reflect and find their own answers. That’s learning that lasts.

Watch the 3-minute CNN video, Babies fighting bullying.  You’ll see what we mean.


August 17th, 2018

Mary Gordon receives the Governor General’s Innovation Award

News Release
Monday May 14, 2018


We are very pleased to announce that Roots of Empathy Founder and President Mary Gordon has received the Governor General’s Innovation Award. Ms. Gordon will receive the award May 23, 2018 at Rideau Hall, Ottawa.

The awards “recognize and celebrate outstanding Canadian individuals, teams and organizations – trailblazers and creators who contribute to our country’s success, who help share our future and who inspire the next generation…building an inclusive, compassionate society will be the keys to Canada’s success as a caring, efficient and prosperous nation.”

Social entrepreneur Mary Gordon is undoubtedly a trailblazer whose mission has been to build caring, civil and peaceful societies. Her first innovation was creating Canada’s first school based parenting programs, Ontario’s Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, which have been replicated around the world.

“Early on I witnessed families suffering through domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. The common denominator was the absence of empathy. I wanted to prove that birth is not destiny. I started Roots of Empathy to give children the opportunity to spend a whole year with a deep connection to a neighbourhood parent and infant who naturally demonstrate secure attachment and attunement, and are the best model of empathy in the world.”

Ms. Gordon envisioned empathy as a peace pill that could go beyond the classroom to the boardroom and the war room, and thus created Roots of Empathy in 1996. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood parent and baby who visit a classroom over the course of a school year. A Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “teacher” and a catalyst to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. The Instructor, using an accredited curriculum, also teaches a class the week before and after each family visit. Independent research confirms the impact of this unprecedented program and its success in reducing aggression and bullying and increasing empathy, fostering greater kindness, co-operation and sharing among students. The program has been replicated in schools across Canada and in ten other countries.

Mary Gordon is recognized internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the power of empathy. She is a Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, the recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee Medals, has an Honourary Doctorate from Memorial University and is Canada’s first Ashoka Fellow.


For more information or to interview Mary Gordon, please contact: Cheryl Jackson, Roots of Empathy Director, Communications and Marketing: cjackson@rootsofempathy.org

To learn more about Roots of Empathy, please visit www.rootsofempathy.org

To read more about the Governor General’s Innovation Awards, please visit https://innovation.gg.ca



May 15th, 2018

The Trans Experience in Education

What happens when you hear the people you love say things like “And to think his mother wanted a boy” or “It would be easier if you transitioned in the south”? How do you navigate a world where you can’t be who you know you are without feeling shame and fear? And what happens when you finally do let the world know who you really are? These are the questions Claire Birkenshaw answered for us at our Speaker Series about the trans experience in education.

Claire was the first person to transition while working as a school principal in the UK. She now consults, advocates and speaks about her experience.  Claire wants education, and society, to learn and adapt.  She wants children to see her as a role model who lives her life with truth and integrity, so that they can too.  Since her talk, Claire has been nominated for Positive Role Model of the Year by the National Diversity Awards in the UK. We’re thrilled and we think she deserves the award.



While in Toronto, Claire also visited a TDSB Grade 8 Roots of Empathy classroom where she told students the story of her transition. The students called her ‘inspirational’ and said it takes kindness and empathy to include those who are different in any way.




Claire’s talk was deeply moving – she took us with her on her personal journey. Here it is.



– Cheryl Jackson



February 23rd, 2018