Nurturing Empathy in Future Generations: University celebrates a decade of working with Early Years Professionals

Date 23.03.2017

The University of Northampton’s 2017 Annual Children and Young People’s lecture, held last night (22 March) and hosted by the Faculty of Education and Humanities, celebrated a decade of transforming lives and inspiring change giving children and young people in Northamptonshire the best possible start in life.

The Faculty of Education and Humanities has long campaigned for policy developments to improve the provision for Early Years across education, health and social care. The University working with Roots of Empathy’s UK Manager Katie Cohen and a partnership with Education Psychological services and Northamptonshire Police, have facilitated a Roots of Empathy programme in three Primary Schools in the county, reaching over 120 children in its first year.

Mary Gordon, founder of the Roots of Empathy programme delivered the keynote speech at the annual lecture. Before speaking to an audience of nearly 200 students, staff, professionals and community leaders, Mary Gordon, said: “I believe that we are all born with the capacity for empathy and it is through early attachment relationships that empathy blooms or fades.  Empathy is at the core of our humanity and its absence underscores violence and cruelty of all kinds.

“The innovation in Roots of Empathy is in the harnessing the power of the attachment relationship between infant and parent. Over the school year, the experiential learning with the neighborhood parent and infant is biologically embedded in the students’ brains as they observe this secure attachment relationship. The Roots of Empathy Instructor guides the children to label the baby’s feelings and intentions. The children learn the affective aspect of empathy – emotion – and the cognitive aspect of empathy – perspective-taking. Emotional literacy develops as children begin to identify and label the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings, then the feelings of others. Through curriculum activities before and after the family visit, the children are given opportunities to discuss their feelings and listen to the feelings of others.

“I’m delighted that the University of Northampton, as a Changemaker Campus, places such a focus on using its influence in creating Early Years Professionals who understand the power of the relationships they will have with infants and young children in nurturing optimal life chances. The Roots of Empathy programme in Northampton has had a very successful first year; it is already having a positive impact on the young children in the three primary schools, as well as the families who participate.”

Mrs Sue Gardner, Head of Upton Meadow School, said: “The project has been a huge success and has been very empowering for staff and children. This is excellent feedback at this very early stage in the programme and we hope that it will be rolled out over Northamptonshire.”

Dr Eunice Lumsden, Head of Early Years at the University of Northampton said: “Our youngest children teach us all such a lot; the Roots of Empathy programme inspires care, compassion and understanding amongst other skills, which help to give the best possible life chances for the future. This programme is just one of the ways the University is using its influence to make Northamptonshire the best place in the UK for children and young people’s health and wellbeing and for them to flourish and learn.

“As the UK’s first University to be awarded Changemaker Campus status, I’m delighted that Mary was able to be part of this year’s Annual Children and Young People’s lecture, sharing her expertise from years of working with young children through the Roots of Empathy programme, as well as her role as a global Changemaker ambassador.”


About Mary Gordon: Global Board Member Ashoka, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Roots of Empathy

Mary Gordon is recognised internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the power of empathy. The aggression/bullying prevention program Roots of Empathy in 1996 and named her not-for-profit organization after the program. Roots of Empathy now offers programs in every province of Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland and Germany. In 2005, Ms Gordon created the Seeds of Empathy program, a social emotional and early literacy program for 3 to 5 year olds in child care. She is a Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Newfoundland, an Ashoka Fellow (2002) and Ashoka Globalizer (2011). Ms. Gordon was awarded the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Education (2002) and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for significant achievement and remarkable Service (2012).