Baby Sadie teaches Quispamsis students about empathy

Once a month the students in Jennifer LeBlanc's Grade 3 class at Quispamsis Elementary get a special visit.

A green square blanket is spread on the floor, the children gather round and 10-month-old Sadie and her mom Lori Patterson stop by.

The monthly visit begins with a special song welcoming Sadie. She smiles and laughs as each child gets a turn saying hello.

"Sadie gets really excited to see the children. They're learning to be gentle and about differences and that everyone starts out like this," says Patterson, bouncing Sadie on her hip.

These visits started in September when Sadie was just two months old.

Each month the students watch the changes in Sadie's development and ask and answer questions about her.

"She didn't really do much then," says student Jack McKenna, remembering two-month old Sadie.

"She couldn't crawl, she couldn't stand, except drool."

Emilia Lundberg said she's enjoyed watching Sadie's growth.

"I like that baby Sadie can grow and that all the kids in our class can see how much she grows," she says.

The visits are part of a national program called Roots of Empathy that teaches emotional literacy to students.

Julie Lundberg, the Roots of Empathy facilitator for the class, said children love babies and because "they don't speak with words, they show their emotions very vividly."

"It's easy for the children to recognize how the baby is feeling, they empathize naturally with a baby."

Lundberg visits the class once a week, where she talks with the class about baby Sadie, feelings and uses art projects to help document both.

"In our follow-up visits, we extend that learning towards each other so they learn to recognize their own feelings and the feelings of their classmates and develop empathy towards them as well," she says.

Lundberg says she can see changes among the students as they become kinder towards each other as the year goes on.

The program was created by Newfoundland and Labrador's Mary Gordon and started as a pilot project in a Toronto school.

It's now an international program and more than 650,000 students have participated in it.

In Anglophone School District South, 32 classes have baby visits, just like the one in LeBlanc's class.

Over the past seven months, students have watched Sadie hit a variety of growth milestones. Sadie is now crawling, grabbing, teething and trying to pull herself up.

Each visit ends with a farewell song to Sadie. Lundberg says the children can't wait for the next month's visit.

"My favourite part is watching the bond that forms between the students and the baby. The students grow to love this baby so much," she says.