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a group of students from River Valley School in their uniforms posing for a photo
River Valley School | Facebook

Sundre School’s Latest Hire Will Shock You

Five-month-old baby is teaching empathy to students at River Valley School

Kids don’t usually start school until age five in Alberta, but one school is making an infant a teacher.

River Valley School in Sundre has onboarded a five-month-old baby to teach a Grade 2 health class through the Roots of Empathy (ROE) program. But believe it or not, this isn’t a first for the school.

The ROE program was founded in Toronto in 1996 by Mary Gordon, a best-selling author, parenting expert, and educator. Gordon strongly believes that empathy is the key to minimizing violence.

Hoping to teach empathy at a young age, Gordon created the ROE program, which offers a variety of empathy-based programs in schools and childcare centers.

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another. It goes without saying that children don’t exactly have the best social skills, to begin with, let alone empathy.

If I had a penny for every time a child called me ugly, stinky, or dumb, I would have a lot of pennies. The bottom line is that children speak their minds without thinking how their words might make the other person feel.

But Gordon hopes that a child that understands empathy will think twice before saying or doing something that could be potentially hurtful to others.

One of the programs run through the ROE invites families to come into classrooms and demonstrate the relationship between parent and infant. River Valley School has taken advantage of this program since October.

a group of River Valley School students posing for a photo with a mother and her child in a classroom
River Valley School students with a mother and her child in Sundre, AB | Red Deer Advocate

Every month, about 25 Grade 2 students from the school meet with a parent and their child to discuss the importance of understanding one another’s emotions.

“Young children aren’t always good at reading other people’s emotions, so identifying signs of the baby being happy and playful, versus angry or sad, has helped students pick up on these emotional signals from their peers,” said River Valley School teacher Shaylyn Johnson.

Seeing firsthand what a healthy attachment between a parent and child looks like, Johnson hopes students can create healthy relationships with their peers.

Johnson says she’s noticed a positive change in her classroom since working with the ROE program.

When it comes to empathy, a little goes a long way. Teaching our children empathy helps them become better individuals who are more understanding, compassionate, and respectful toward others.

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