Roots of Empathy

Brief Description

Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that seeks to reduce levels of aggression among school children by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The organization’s mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children. Roots of Empathy aims to break intergenerational cycles of violence.

Empathy is necessary to build healthy relationships and resilience – the core of mental health and sustained well-being. Early experiences in school are an important determinant of physical, cognitive and emotional health. If childhood aggression is unchecked it can be the gateway to poor mental health and violence. Randomized longitudinal studies have demonstrated that the Roots of Empathy program reduces aggression significantly, and the effect is maintained.


The main goals of the Roots of Empathy program are:

  • to foster development of empathy;
  • to develop emotional literacy;
  • to reduce levels of bullying and aggression and promote children’s prosocial behaviours;
  • to increase children’s knowledge about infant development and effective parenting practices; and
  • to prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.


The Roots of Empathy program is designed for children ages 5-13, Kindergarten to grade 8 in urban, rural and remote communities. Four different curriculums are available: kindergarten, 1st to 3rd grade, 4th to 6th grade, and 7th to 8th grade.

Roots of Empathy is offered in English and French and provides resources in several Indigenous languages.

Roots of Empathy has a strong commitment and history to meeting the needs of Indigenous children in Canada, including communities in urban, rural, remote and fly-in locations. In 2008, Canada’s assembly of First Nations endorsed Roots of Empathy, saying that the program is “compatible with traditional First Nations teaching a world views.”

Roots of Empathy engages volunteer families in these communities, including First Nation, Metis and Inuit families who are role models for the children as the program honours the attachment relationship and emphasizes the importance of loving and listening.

Core Components

Roots of Empathy contributes to creation of a world in which people help more and hurt less by fostering empathy in children.

  • At the heart of the program is a neighbourhood parent and baby who visit the classroom throughout the school year.
  • A certified instructor, using an age-appropriate curriculum, guides the children to observe the parent and baby and the baby’s feelings and intentions. Children learn the affective aspect of empathy – emotion – and the cognitive aspect of empathy – perspective-taking.
  • Emotional literacy develops as children begin to identify the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings, then the feelings of others. Emotional literacy is a first and essential step in learning how to regulate emotions. Children gain further experience in self-regulation as they observe the mother regulating the baby’s emotions. This change from within results in an increase in self-regulation, resilience and well-being.
  • In addition, the instructor delivers lessons which prepare, extend and reinforce the teachings from the family visit (27 visits over a school year).
  • The inclusive approach treats the classroom universally as all children learn to respect and include the other, and develops a culture where children learn to care for themselves, one another, their world and their future.
  • Children learn that we share the same feelings and our feelings are the core of our humanity.

Implementation Information

Some of the critical elements for the implementation of this program or initiative include the following:

  • Organizational requirements: Schools are invited to host the Roots of Empathy program in their classrooms. Roots of Empathy program managers coordinate the recruitment of Roots of Empathy Instructors who are volunteers from the community or non-teaching staff from schools or community agencies. Roots of Empathy program managers coordinate the recruitment of volunteer families in coordination with interested schools and the Instructor of the program. These parents will have had a baby in the summer months leading up the beginning of the program and the baby will be 2-4 months old at the beginning of the program.
  • Partnerships: Partnerships include social agencies and the school board/individual schools.
  • Training and technical assistance: Instructor applicants who have been accepted participate in an intensive, four-day training and are assigned a mentor who will support them during their first year of delivering the program. School principals and teachers are provided with explicit guidelines to follow in order to maintain the integrity of Roots of Empathy program delivery.
  • Risk assessment tools: Limited information on this topic.
  • Materials & resources: Instructors receive a curriculum with plans for each lesson, a family visit kit, and all other resources they will need in order to deliver the program successfully. They also enrolled in the Roots of Empathy Instructor Dashboard, which provides on-going communication with the organization, as well as professional development.

International Endorsements

The most recognized classification systems of evidence-based crime prevention programs have classified this program or initiative as follows:

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development: Not applicable.
  • Crime Solutions/OJJDP Model Program Guide: Not applicable.
  • SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices: Not applicable.
  • Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Not applicable.

Gathering Canadian Knowledge

Canadian Implementation Sites

In Canada, the program is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban, and remote communities including Indigenous communities. The organization delivers two programs: Roots of Empathy for children 5-13, and Seeds of Empathy for children ages 3-5 in childcare centres. Since the program first began in 1996, nearly 900,000 Canadian children have received the program.

Roots of Empathy annually hosts a Research Symposium, bringing together high-level contemporary scientists from Canada and around the world to expand on the latest knowledge and scientific thinking about the landscape of childhood. Through engaging and thought-provoking presentations, the symposia create an opportunity for knowledge transfer from these leading-edge scientists to those in the audience, which include policy makers, educators, social workers, health care providers, parents, students and others who work with children.

Roots of Empathy maximizes the reach of the research and facilitate knowledge exchange following the events by recording video of each presentation and publishing it on its website, providing a unique resource for teachers, early childhood educators, and others working to promote child wellness.

Main Findings from Canadian Outcome Evaluation Studies

Study 1

An outcome evaluation study of the ROE program was conducted in 2012 by Schonert-Reichl and colleagues. The study employed a quasi-experimental control-group, prestest-posttest, multi-informant design and examined classrooms in Vancouver (British Columbia) and Toronto (Ontario). Researchers examined social behaviours in 585 children in grades 4-7, from 28 classrooms.

Results demonstrated that children in program classrooms, in contrast to children in control classrooms exhibited:

  • improved understanding of infant crying;
  • significant increase in prosocial behaviours; and
  • significant decrease in proactive and relational aggression.

Study 2

An outcome evaluation study of the ROE program was conducted in 2011 by Santos and colleagues. This longitudinal, outcome evaluation study used a cluster, randomized controlled field trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in Manitoba schools. The evaluation examined social behaviours in children in kindergarten, grade 4 and grade 8.

The program had beneficial, immediate effects on all outcomes, including:

  • reducing physical aggression and indirect aggression; and
  • increasing prosocial behaviour.

Long-term beneficial outcomes (up to 3 years post follow-up) for aggression were generally maintained or continued to improve following program completion.

Cost Information

In 2020, the average cost for the year-long Roots of Empathy program is $440 (CAD) per child – an average cost per class of $1000 (CAD). Training costs are additional.


Santos, R. G., et al.  (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: Cluster randomized controlled field trial of the Roots of Empathy program with replication and three-year follow-up. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91. Available from:

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., et al.  (2012). Promoting children’s prosocial behaviours in school: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” program on the social and emotional competence of school-aged children. School Mental Health, 4, 1-21. Available from:

For more information on this program, contact:

Roots of Empathy
250 Ferrand Drive, Suite 1501
Toronto, Ontario M3C 3G8
Telephone: (416) 944-3001

Record Entry Date - 2018-03-12
Record Updated On - 2021-04-29
Date modified: