Roots of Empathy

  • Toronto




About Us

What is Roots of Empathy?

Roots of Empathy is an award-winning charitable organization that offers empathy-based programming for children. Our vision is to change the world - child by child.

Roots of Empathy is considered a model of social innovation and has two programs: a flagship program of the same name for children in elementary school (Roots of Empathy) and Seeds of Empathy, its "younger sibling" - a program for children ages three-to-five in early childhood settings. Both programs have shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among children while raising their social and emotional competence and increasing empathy.


Roots of Empathy's mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

History and Reach

In 1996, Mary Gordon created Roots of Empathy in Toronto, Canada. Roots of Empathy became a charitable not-for-profit organization in 2000. To date, the program has reached an astounding 373,000 children worldwide.

Roots of Empathy is delivered to schoolchildren from kindergarten to Grade 8 across Canada, in English and French, and in rural, urban, and remote communities. It also reaches children in the United States (in Seattle, Washington), New Zealand, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. The program has been called "Canada's olive branch to the world."

In 2008, the Canadian Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution to endorse Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy, calling both programs "compatible with traditional First Nations teachings and worldviews." Both programs are offered in a growing number of First Nations communities, and to urban and rural Aboriginal children across Canada, and the organization works in partnership with Indigenous people globally.

Roots of Empathy has also won an international Changemakers award from the Ashoka organization.

Roots of Empathy in Action

In the Roots of Empathy program, a parent and baby (who is two to four months old at the start of the program) from the community visit a classroom nine times over the course of a school year. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor visits with the family to guide children as they observe the relationship between the baby and his or her parent. The instructor also visits before and after each family visit to reinforce teachings. There are 27 classroom visits in total in a Roots of Empathy program.

In the program, the baby is the "teacher." With each family visit, the instructor leads the children in noticing how the baby is growing and changing over the course of his or her first year of life. The children also watch the loving relationship between the parent and baby and see how the parent responds to the baby's emotions and meets the baby's needs. The attachment relationship between a baby and a parent is an ideal model of empathy.

Children learn to understand the perspective of the baby and label the baby's feelings, and then are guided in extending this learning outwards so they have a better understanding of their own feelings and the feelings of others. This emotional literacy lays the foundation for more safe and caring classrooms, where children are "Changers." They are more socially and emotionally competent and much more likely to challenge cruelty and injustice.