Roots of Empathy programme brings babies to the classroom

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A Canadian programme shown to reduce aggression and encourage empathy in children by bringing a very young baby into the classroom was officially launched in England by the Pre-School Learning Alliance last week (23 November)

Children aged eight from Edmund Waller Primary School and 13 other schools in the London boroughs of Lewisham and Croydon are the first in England to take part in the Roots of Empathy programme, a Canadian initiative that helps to develop empathy in children.

The Roots of Empathy programme was founded by Canadian educator and child advocate Mary Gordon in 1996 and has had a significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising their social and emotional competence and increasing empathy.

Focusing on children aged five to ten years old, the programme involves a parent and two-month-old baby visiting a classroom nine times over the course of a school year. A trained instructor coaches the children to observe the baby’s development and recognise their feelings.

The idea is that as children develop a relationship with the baby, they begin to identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

It is estimated that the Roots of Empathy programme has reached around 450,000 children worldwide, including in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. However, this is the first time it has been used in England.

The first Roots of Empathy classes in England began at the end of October. The classes, funded by a grant from the Big Lottery Improving Futures Fund, are being co-ordinated by the Pre-School Learning Alliance via its Family Pathways Partnership with Croydon Voluntary Alliance and with support from the WAVE Trust, a Croydon-based charity aiming to reduce the root causes of violence.

The official launch of the programme at Edmund Waller Primary School in Lewisham saw children meet four-month-old baby Zoe for a second time.

Pupils observed that since her last visit in October, baby Zoe was able to grab hold of toys, had more movement and was able to communicate by babbling.

Val Pope, executive manager of the Alliance’s Lewisham Sub-Committee and programme leader, told Nursery World that the Alliance will be measuring the impact of the initiative over the year using information from the 14 schools on children’s emotional development and data on bullying.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘The Alliance is thrilled to be the lead agency in England for the introduction of this unique and groundbreaking programme.’

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