Roots of Empathy… again!

I participated in the Roots of Empathy program with our son. If you have never heard of the program, check it out! There was even a neat article in the New York Times about the program last week. I truly enjoyed my participation and I believe in the effectiveness of the program, so I was hoping I could do it again this time around. But I thought it might be hard since the babies have to be 2 months old at the beginning of the program, and I expected it to start near the beginning of the school year… which is when my daughter was born. Several months ago, I contacted the people I had worked with the first time, within the French school system, but the instructors from the three French schools I could reasonably make it to were either not doing the program this year or had found another baby. So I was disappointed but resigned myself to not doing the program with my daughter.

Then I had an idea (I know, it took me a while to think about it, but blame it on baby brain!): I checked the BC contact for Roots of Empathy on their Website and blindly sent an email saying I lived in Vancouver and was available to do the program if anyone still needed a baby. I stressed the fact that I had experience, feeling like I had to make myself look good so I would be chosen… I clicked “send” and my plea went into in cyberspace. Nobody acknowledged reception of my email and never heard back, so I figured it was too little, too late. Then last week I suddenly received a phone call from a lady who was looking for a baby to do the program with. She came to visit today, and we are set to start next week!

I am really excited at the prospect. The class is grades 5-6, so it will probably be a lot more interesting than when I did it the first time with kids in grade 1. They should be a bit less unruly and have a much better understanding. I wish I could have done it in French again, but, well, you can’t have it all. And it’s a bit far from home, but it’s definitely doable. I even got another phone call last week from the Vancouver School Board: they were doing an instructors’ training for the program and needed a baby to do a mock class visit with the trainees. The person scheduled to come in had canceled and they were in a pickle. Could I go – now? I did, and I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that my daughter was cranky and we had to cut the visit short when she wouldn’t stop crying.

I hope not all visits will end that way, but if they do, so be it. It’s part of the program too. Kids will learn that some babies feel really uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations, and it will help them develop their empathy even more! The truth is, I like spending time in class and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces when they see the baby arrive or reach a new developmental milestone. I enjoy the presents they give the baby, usually things that they made themselves and required lots of thought and reflection from them. But most of all, I love having the feeling that I am helping to make a difference in our society. It’s not much – I will be reaching what, two dozen kids? – but it’s better than nothing. It’s two dozen kids who will learn through my daughter how you are supposed to treat other human beings. They will reflect upon what we all need to grow happy and healthy, and they will learn to apply this knowledge in their everyday interactions. And along the way, they are much less likely to become bullies.

By the way, I was told when I visited the school board last week that the program had lost its funding in BC. So if you have a lot of cash on your hands and don’t know what to do with it, you can always decide it’s a good cause!

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