It’s a classroom program that helps children develop empathy.

The organization Roots of Empathy is a program that takes place over the course of a school year, where an infant is paired with a classroom.

Organization founder and president Mary Gordon believes that by bringing together the baby and parent combination to the classroom children are able to understand empathy through experiential learning.

“What I discovered was that there was a lot of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect,” says Gordon. “The common denominator in all of that suffering was the absence of empathy.”

Research shows that when empathy goes up, aggression and bullying goes down. Children’s behavior becomes kinder and more inclusive.

If children feel alienated, experts say, it’s often because they don’t understand what their feelings are and they don’t have the capacity to communicate that to others.

“Children are able to develop emotional literacy through observing the babies facial expressions, the tone of their voice, as well as their body language,” says Gordon.

One Roots of Empathy parent says watching the relationship between her baby and the class grow has been the most positive part of the experience.

“He lights up when he sees the kids in the classroom,” says Christina Edmiston. “They start to kind of take ownership of him as their own baby. It’s a precious thing to watch unfold.”

Children that have participated have responded positively as well.

“We always wait patiently for the family to visit,” says Owen McLaughlin, a Grade 5 student at Woodland Park Public School in Cambridge. “It’s a really cool experience.”

The Roots of Empathy program started in Ontario in 1996. It has since expanded to every province in Canada, as well as eleven other countries.