As a mom with two children very close in age, I am often at a loss for ways to invest in our community. When loading your kids in the car seems like an ordeal worthy of a two-hour nap, it’s hard to imagine finding a volunteer opportunity that works for a new mother. But when my youngest daughter was born, my doula encouraged me to look into a program called Roots of Empathy.
I did a simple Google search and found the most amazing information regarding how learning about and interacting with infants can help teach elementary school aged children empathy. This program also lowers rates of aggression and raises students’ social and emotional competence.
I immediately contacted the local director. I asked for information and asked if my daughter and I could participate.
We had a visit with a Roots of Empathy instructor who walked us step-by-step through what the school year would look like:
We would visit the same second-grade classroom at a local elementary school once a month.
The kids would observe my daughter. With the help of their classroom teacher, Roots of Empathy instructor, and myself, they would label the baby’s feelings and intentions.
We would participate in different activities, such as singing songs, watching my daughter play with toys, observing her hitting new milestones, etc.
The students would ask me questions about my child’s development, likes, dislikes, etc.
We visited a second-grade classroom at Chamiza Elementary School on the west side of Albuquerque once a month from the time my daughter was two months old, until our last visit when she was ten months old. It was such a fun way to volunteer locally as well as spend time one-on-one with my baby.
I loved watching the students cheer as she hit each milestone from rolling over to crawling and standing. My daughter, Hadley, loved having a classroom full of kids smiling at her, singing to her, and watching her every move. As the school year came to a close, I was honestly quite sad to be leaving the school. I joked with my husband that we needed to have another baby in time for the next school year!
After our tenure at Chamiza ended, I asked the director of the program if they had seen any significant results. She shared statistics with me regarding growth in the students emotional awareness. In addition, teachers reported improvements in their classroom environment.
In the Albuquerque program alone, between 80-100% of students showed that they had learned about recognizing other’s feelings. They understood their own feelings better. And they had a better understanding of how others feel. Among those students, 93% reported that they would help a student if they saw them being bullied.
The statistics really show that this program is working in the lives of students, parents, and teachers alike. Statistics aside, I loved seeing the kids who were shy at the beginning of the year come out of their shells. They learned how to interact with a baby. Whether they were playing peekaboo or singing a song or just saying good morning.
Are you or anyone you know with a newborn looking for a volunteer opportunity for the upcoming school year?