Roots of Empathy

Mary Gordon.
An evidence-based emotional literacy programme that brings babies into the classroom during regular school hours to improve empathy and reduce violence among children from ages 5 to 12.
What solution does the innovation propose?

Through Roots of Empathy, emotional literacy —the ability to recognise and understand each other’s emotions— becomes a core academic subject within the educational programme. Its curriculum aims to reduce levels of child aggression, countering the physical, psychological and neurological effects of violence and helping children acquire those abilities needed to build successful relationships. By teaching empathy and emotional literacy, students develop a sense of responsibility, learn to challenge cruelty, recognise and manage their own emotions.


HundrED Innovation (2019). Canada’s Top Social Innovator, Manning Innovation Award (2011). Mary Gordon is Ashoka Globalizer (2011) and Ashoka Fellow (2002).

Impact evidence

  • Programmes have reached over 800,000 children worldwide.
  • Compared with pupils from the control group, participants significantly increase their affective empathy and prosocial behaviour and exhibit a decrease in levels of aggression.
  • From the teachers’ perspective, prosocial behaviour, physical aggression, and indirect aggression improve significantly after the programme and are maintained three years later, while some behaviours continue to show improvement.
How does it work?

The programme is delivered during regular school hours, using a comprehensive, specialised curriculum that is adapted to four different grade levels, reaching students in different stages of their development and allowing for maximum impact. Each class ‘adopts’ a baby, who visits the classroom along with a parent and a trained instructor once a month during a school year. The instructor meets with the class before and after each visit, for a total of 27 sessions. Each visit focusses on a different issue related to the baby’s development, including sleep, crying, safety and emotions. During a typical visit, the students observe, ask questions and discuss the baby’s behaviour and temperament, learning to respond appropriately to what the baby is trying to ‘tell them’ through non-verbal language. Through recognising the baby’s emotions, students learn to identify and label the feelings of others, while being able to explore and discuss their own feelings. This helps them understand how violent attitudes, like bullying, affect their peers.

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
Where has been implemented so far
Costa Rica, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Last updated: 
March 2019