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Roots of Empathy

location_on Canada

Helping children develop the empathy they need for mental health, learning and caring for others.

Roots of Empathy(ROE) is known as one of the earliest and clearest voices in the empathy dialogue. ROE, its flagship program for elementary school children, has reached 1 million children on four continents and is proven by 2 decades of independent research to reduce aggression/bullying and increase prosocial behaviour. Seeds of Empathy is offered to children in early learning and childcare sites.

Hall of Fame


Web presence






September 2017
As important as it is to learn to read in school, if children do not also learn to relate, we will have failed societies.

About the innovation

The role of Roots of Empathy in children’s learning in 2021 and 2022 and the vision for 2022 -2023

A March 2022 scientific brief from the World Health Organization noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people around the world. In addition to the ongoing pandemic, racial inequity continued to be exposed, severe environmental events occurred, and war was in the headlines. Children are anxious, stressed, and lonely.

Empathy is a pathway to better relationships in childhood that feeds resiliency, happiness and progress towards to a more just and kinder world. During this period of disrupted learning and social distancing, Roots of Empathy (ROE) worked on robustly nourishing the knowledge capacity of staff, enhancing our empathy programs through innovation, and contributing to empathy conversations with new audiences to help a world coming out of the pandemic mentally scarred.

Preparing for the future by skilling up our staff. While Roots of Empathy continued to help children with our online ROE Recovery program in 2021-2022, we focused inward on deepening our staff’s knowledge to enable greater capacity to promote and implement more programs to more children. Knowledge transfer to build capacity included several initiatives.

One initiative, called the 360 Project, involved building an online content ‘bank’ containing years of research and expert advice on children’s issues and the empathy related solutions. The purpose of the 360 ‘bank’ is to continually organize ROE research and make it accessible and easy to use internally for proposals, reports, and social media to facilitate growth of empathy development. The resources within the 360 project include Annual Program Evaluation (APE) feedback quotes, Research Symposium speaker quotes, research findings on the impact of the Roots of Empathy program, and general research findings on the important themes for ROE — 47 themes including empathy, prosocial behaviour, emotional literacy, social justice, mental health and wellbeing. APE feedback quotes are especially powerful resources as they show the impact of the program through the participant’s voice. We have more than 1,700 quotes in APE reports from 2016 to 2021 across the world.

Additionally, President Mary Gordon has devised a series of ‘lean-in and learn’ lectures to be delivered to the staff of Roots of Empathy in 2022-2023. Ultimately, these capacity-building initiatives will build a cadre of experts in program and speaker ready participants for academic collaboration. Cultivating media ready staff will support our spread strategy.

A culture of continuous learning and innovation. In 2022, ROE combined feedback from our hybrid online Instructor training to blend best practices and learnings in redesigning our traditional in-person training to enhance quality and efficiency. During the pandemic, with our virtual program, we piloted an electronic version of our curriculum provided on a tablet. This worked so well that moving ahead we are abandoning paper curriculum for an electronic version. We have created a series of new program philosophy videos that are going to be used as preservice learning in our traditional in-person training and will be available on-demand through our Virtual Training Institute for Instructor’s independent learning.

Why were these important innovations? Because the programs work. Over 2 decades of research shows us that ROE programs are effective, and most recently, teachers tell us that the ROE Pandemic Recovery Program has been a major support to children who are having difficulties returning to school after the shutdown.

During the pandemic, ROE innovated from our experiential program with a local baby on a Green Blanket in a classroom, to a baby on screen. Both scenarios use an age-appropriate curriculum, and a certified ROE Instructor that coaches the students to observe the baby’s intentions, label the baby’s feelings, and witness the parent-baby attachment relationship. The baby is the “teacher” and a catalyst that the Instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. Children learn that we share the same feelings and our feelings are at the core of our humanity.

As the pandemic isolation measures ease and we move into the 2022-2023 school year, teachers are identifying an even greater need for emotional regulation as children have had much less social experience. Children missed the routine of school and the routine of its relationships in the classroom, at recess, and before and after school. These are all social learnings which were arrested as children related to screens.  Many children are missing basic etiquette skills like raising hands and taking turns - and disruption and defiance are more apparent. Roots of Empathy programs interrupt this and help children understand their feelings, an important stage of self-regulation, allowing teachers to “teach” and move students ahead in traditional literacies that have also fallen behind in the pandemic. A Canadian teacher highlighted the benefits of Roots of Empathy in her classroom:  “It allows the students to explore their emotions and work on self-awareness and self-regulation. That they are given tools to deal with big emotions they are then more able to focus on their learning. I have sincerely enjoyed the experience …”.  

ROE programs’ footprint got bigger. As students started to return to classrooms, ROE expanded into new areas: In May 2022, a Seeds of Empathy program and a Nurturing Empathy in Children Parenting Workshop pilot was launched in Hawaii. Nurturing Empathy in Children consists of 10 workshops to support parents in understanding of their child through the lens of temperament. These workshops are provided to the parents of the children that are participating in Seeds of Empathy in their child care centre. The workshops provide parents with print resources, video recorded presentations and opportunities to join in virtual discussions with other parents participating in the workshops.

We are excited to return to school this 2022-2023 school year to deliver the traditional Roots of Empathy program, with the baby on a blanket in the classroom - so that students' experiences are first hand. Our traditional Roots of Empathy programs are rated highly by teachers and students alike. In our 2019 pre-pandemic evaluations of the traditional ROE programs, more than 87% of teachers agreed that as a result of Roots of Empathy, students are more able to understand other people’s points of view, students are more empathic to one another, and students are more inclusive or accepting of others who are different from themselves (including culture, race, special needs, gender, etc…). 79% of students reported better understanding how other people feel, and 86% of students reported that if they saw a student in the playground being bullied or treated meanly, they would help them.

Delivering hope by Empathy! ROE Founder Mary Gordon inspired new audiences towards empathic development programs and policies through important presentations. Examples of areas of expanded influence include: Canadian military personnel through an invitation from the Department of Defence, US policy influencers through her participation as a panellist for “ Preventing the Next Mental Health Crisis through Partnerships with Families and Communities”, part of the Forum for Children’s Well-Being, hosted by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the media by participating in the June 2022 Collision Summit, a huge event connecting people and ideas that change the world where she will be a panellist on “The Future of Education in 2022’, focusing on a full range of topics around education from childhood to adulthood and the role of technology, and working with the BBC World Service for a Radio/podcast program follow-up segment looking at innovative approaches to reduce violence in schools.

The most famous parents in the world, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate), visited a ROE classroom in Scotland, remarking on Instagram, "How you guide children’s understanding of a baby’s needs and emotions is such a forward-thinking approach. Helping children build empathy is a crucial part of good social and emotional development."

At ROE, we will continue to innovate for children, who are 100% of our future. At ROE, we continue to innovate for our staff to be future ready with research and rationale for why emotion regulation is a precursor to learning and will help close the learning gap caused by the pandemic. The pandemic has drawn the curtain on injustices of all kinds. Children are always the most vulnerable and invisible in times of change and chaos. Roots of Empathy provides support to students and to their teachers as we raise the bar on what it means to be human – to be empathic. We are so proud to have been recognized as part of HundrED’s innovations in education since 2018.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Roots of Empathy is based on the idea that of taking the perspective of the other, to notice and appreciate our commonalities. Over 17 years of research has yielded consistent results, showing that Roots of Empathy students perceive a more inclusive and caring environment by the end of the program. Their motto"Changing the world, child by child" is apparent in their easily scaled approach.

HundrED Academy Reviews
The concept is fascinating. So much data exists pointing to its clear impact, which is great to see. And the concept is clearly scalable in its massive reach.
This is wonderful - it is bringing back something that would have been inherent to childhood and everyday life (family life). Highly impactful through relationships and watching a young child grow and develop. Just beautiful.
- Academy member
Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
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High Scalability
Read more about our selection process


Knowledge transfer 
The 360 Project is a content bank containing research on Roots of Empathy. The purpose is to organize research and make it more accessible internally for proposals, reports, and social media. The resources within the 360 project include Annual Program Evaluation (APE) feedback quotes, Research Symposium speaker quotes, research findings on the impact of the Roots of Empathy program, and general research findings on the important themes for ROE — 47 themes are highlighted. The knowledge transfer is a democratizing process we are making available to ROE staff around the world.
BBC World Service
BBC World ServiceFormerly known as BBC World Hacks, People Fixing the World is planning a segment on Roots of Empathy, following up on their previous film (viewed over 24 million times) on Roots of Empathy, “Bully-busting babies”, which they produced in 2018. They are now producing a podcast on innovative approaches to reducing violence in schools and will include a “Where are they now?” segment about Roots of Empathy.
Kate Middleton & Prince William Adorably Bond w/ Kids In Scotland
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Kate and William) visited a Roots Of Empathy classroom in Scotland as ROE compliments their focus on young children. Kate asked the students if more schools should have this program, when the students replied yes, she answered, “So do we.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPyMrQoz7Eo&t=40s
Collision Summit June 2022 
Collision runs the world’s largest technology events, connecting people and ideas that change the world. The Toronto Conference attracted 35,000 attendees. By invitation, Founder/President Mary Gordon spoke on a panel, “The Future of Education in 2022’. Click to see her response to “What is the connection between the health system and education?” and more. https://youtu.be/YKI_OCUz4HU  
Lean-in and Learn – (upcoming in 2023)
The aim of the Lean-in and Learn series for ROE staff is led by Mary Gordon, to respond to the myriad of global challenges, which impact children. The expansive conversations will include from empathic ways of closing the learning gap to antecedents of civil society. 
Children’s Wishes for the World, 2022
Highlighted in our online Roots of Empathy Children’s Gallery, this show features a series of video clips of wishes made for our aching world in 2022 by 8 and 9 year old children from our New Zealand program. We are humbled by their insights, their empathy, and their hopeful generous spirits. https://rootsofempathy.org/childrens-gallery-introduction/wishes-2022/
Who better than the experts to paint a broad picture, through testimonials, of the scope and impact of our work and influence? Roots of Empathy testimonial videos are now available here. Listen to Dr. Bruce Perry, Maurice Meehan (Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland) and others applaud the work we do in changing the world, child by child. Testimonial videos - https://rootsofempathy.org/testimonials/
Roots of Empathy Virtual Research Symposium 2021
We reached over 4200 like-minded individuals from 52 countries coming from backgrounds in health, education, research, and aligned fields in a thought-provoking two-day symposium.Our virtual symposium not only brought together top North American neuroscientists and experts on wellbeing and empathy like Dr. Richard Davidson, Dr. Dan Siegel, Prof. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, and Dr. Bruce Perry, but we also dove into topics such as empathy in leadership, social justice, and had an across-border perspective on black fatherhood. To learn more, visit ourVirtual Research Symposium 2021 page. 
Switzerland Roots of Empathy Research Study
Watch the 2 minute video of the findings from the Bern University longitudinal study of Roots of Empathy. 
Roots Of Empathy celebrates 25 years of fostering empathy | Here and Now Toronto with Gill Deacon | Live Radio | CBC Listen
On May 12th, Mary Gordon appeared on the CBC radio program Here & Now, hosted by Gill Deacon. Mary’s storytelling captured the hearts and minds of the listeners. In terms of promoting our brand and increasing recognition of our organization, the interview was invaluable, providing millions of CBC listeners across Canada and beyond with relevant and interesting information about our organization. LISTEN HERE
ROE Children's Wishes for 2021
Listen and see our children giving their wishes for 2021. Some are moving, some are funny and all are worth a watch! Enjoy their visions of the future. CLICK HERE to watch. 
The Children's Gallery
The Children’s Gallery is a space reserved to celebrate the voices of children. All children have a voice but many need encouragement to use it. We embrace many themes in our gallery using children’s art and their words. We are humbled by their insights, their empathy, and their hopeful generous spirits. CLICK HERE to check it out. 
NIVEA Human Touch Video Series - Mary Gordon
CLICK HERE to watch Roots of Empathy's Founder/President Mary Gordon speak about the importance of human touch and the roles human touch can play in our lives with Ralph Zimmerer, Vice President Global NIVEA Brand Identity & Capability. 
Roots of Empathy Annual Research Symposium
The annual Roots of Empathy Research Symposium brings together leading thinkers and researchers on children's social and emotional development. CLICK HERE to learn more about our Research Symposia. 
The power of touch
At the beginning and end of each Family Visit, students sing to the baby and each student has an opportunity to connect with the baby by touch, by song and by looking into their eyes. Human touch is nurturing for both the baby and the students.
Roots of Empathy father and Tiny Teacher
All students enjoy the participation of fathers in their Roots of Empathy class. Fathers provide a model of positive male nurturing. There is no one right way to love but children understand when they are in the presence of love. Love is the best teacher.
Baby Celebration!
At the end of every school year, we invite our volunteer parents, babies, Instructors, families to gather and thank them for sharing their love for their baby in the baby’s first precious year of life. This loving relationship between parent and baby is where empathy begins to grow. Students in Roots of Empathy remember their "Tiny Teachers" forever. We know that from meeting adults who had the program more than 2 decades ago.
“The baby tackling bullying at school” 4 mins - 24 Million views
Mary Gordon: Using Innovations to Reduce Aggression and Bullying | HundrED Innovation Summit
Students follow all aspects of a baby’s development from two months to twelve months of age. They learn how “Love Grows Brains” and what babies need to develop into happy, fearless learners who know how to love and connect to others.
Classroom teacher and students observe as the Roots of Empathy Instructor demonstrates how the baby was able to visually track a toy and finally hold it for herself.

Implementation steps

Contact Roots of Empathy International Office

Contact us at international@rootsofempathy.org to get more information on what is required to bring Roots of Empathy to your community/country.

Determine which implementation models works best

Work with Roots of Empathy to discuss which implementation model is most appropriate for your location.

Determine which schools will host the program

Work with education authorities and school administrators to determine which schools will host the program. Identify pipeline for recruiting volunteer Instructors and families (with a baby).

Training and matching volunteers to classrooms

Once funding is secured and schools are selected, training of Instructors is arranged, matching of volunteer family with Instructor and classroom is arranged.

Annual Program Evaluation
At the end of the program year, the classroom teacher, students, volunteer parent and Instructor complete an Annual Program Evaluation which is used to inform local adaptation and quality assurance.
2021 Virtual Research Symposium
Roots of Empathy hosts an Annual Research Symposium offering engaging and thought-provoking research presentations from world-renowned international scientists.

Roots of Empathy's goals are to mobilize new knowledge around relevant themes and create space for enhancing connections between researchers, research users and the general public.  In addition, Roots of Empathy’s International Speaker Series brings together policy-makers, academics, social service providers, educational practitioners and community citizens to engage in big ideas.  All talks are available in full for free on the Roots of Empathy YouTube channel.

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