"These tiny teachers are helping to make British Columbia a place where there is zero tolerance for bullying and where every child feels safe," said Premier Clark. "I am so pleased to be a part of this annual celebration of such a successful and worthwhile program. The Roots of Empathy program is a cornerstone of our anti-bullying strategy in B.C., with young children learning the core values of kindness, trust, empathy and respect through their interactions with babies."
At the baby celebration event, the Roots of Empathy babies were serenaded with the song "Twinkle Twinkle" while their parents held them up in the air.
The Roots of Empathy program arranges classroom visits with a baby and a parent to teach children about compassion and empathy, in order to help solve the problem of bullying. Children are coached to observe the baby's development, celebrate milestones, and learn about an infant's needs and unique temperament.
Nearly 4,000 babies with the Roots of Empathy program have been brought into B.C. classrooms over the last 12 years. Many of these youngest teachers are now students themselves.
This year, the Roots of Empathy program in B.C. expanded from 239 classrooms to 357 classrooms, educating about 9,000 students. Next year, the program is expected to reach approximately 11,000 elementary school students in 440 classrooms.
"Roots of Empathy is delighted with the support provided by the government of B.C., allowing us to bring the Roots and Seeds of Empathy programs to thousands of children across the province this year," said Mary Gordon, founder/president of Roots of Empathy. "We would also like to congratulate the government for its wisdom to focus on kindergarten children, recognized across Canada as an evidence-based investment in bullying prevention."
The Seeds of Empathy program, the "younger sibling" of Roots of Empathy, is now offering programs in 22 preschools and 14 urban Aboriginal and/or First Nations communities.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Education jointly provide $800,000 towards these programs each year, based on a five-year funding commitment made in June 2011.
"The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow. That's why creating powerful early learning opportunities for children to reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others is so important," said Mary McNeil, Minister of Children and Family Development. "Through this program, B.C.'s children are learning compassion and empathy, and we hope they will carry these valuable qualities with them throughout their lives."
"Children who go through the Roots of Empathy program are more likely to exhibit positive social behaviours, such as sharing, helping and understanding others," said George Abbott, Minister of Education. "This innovative program lays the foundation for more safe and caring classrooms, and in turn, contributes to healthy, safe and peaceful communities."
B.C. was one of the first provinces in Canada to offer the Roots of Empathy program. In 2000, it began in 10 classrooms in Vancouver. Since then it has branched out to reach more than 100,000 children across the province.
"It amazes me to see how the children first learn to understand the baby's emotions, then their own emotions and eventually those in their wider social sphere," said Patricia Neibel, acting vice-principal at Sir Richard McBride Elementary School in Vancouver. "One good thing leads to another and the climate of the entire school changes for the better - it's contagious!"
Roots of Empathy has also increased its reach to B.C.'s Aboriginal children, with 38 per cent of the programs in classrooms with high Aboriginal populations, as well as programs in four First Nations communities: Cowichan Band School, Squamish Band School, Lower Nicola Band School and N'Kwala Band School.
The new provincewide 10-point anti-bullying strategy announced by Premier Clark on June 1 builds on the Roots and Seeds of Empathy programs. ERASE Bullying (Expect Respect And a Safe Education) is a comprehensive strategy that will make the province a leader in addressing bullying.
To find out more about Roots of Empathy or Seeds of Empathy, go to: www.rootsofempathy.org/
Director of Communications
Office of the Premier
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Children and Family Development