A radical new project has revealed the extent to which young babies can help children between the ages of five and seven to develop greater empathy.
In thousands of schools across the globe, a new initiative entitled ‘Roots in Empathy’ conducted sessions in which a neighbourhood infant and parent visits a classroom every three weeks over the school year.
As part of the programme, a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor will then coach students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings.
It is part of a project designed to teach emotional literacy and understanding to students.
During the course, the instructor will visit the class before and after each session to prepare and reinforce teachings using a specialized lesson plan.
In some cases, the classes may be integrated with existing lessons such as mathematics, in which the children will be encouraged to calculate and chart the baby’s weight and measurements.
At other times, literature may be used as a way to open the door to feelings and perspective taking. Children may also be encouraged to express their feelings in art classes, or use music to communicate the lessons they have learned.
The parents who are selected for the programme can be mums and dads or single parents as long as they are at ease in their parenting role, so they can provide a working model of responsive and responsible parenting to the students.
Programmes have taken place all over the world, including in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, America, Isle of Man, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and in Aboriginal communities, as well as in remote areas.
According to the programme makers, it has reduced aggression and bullying in the classrooms where the project has been initiated and it has also been shown to enable children to be more competent in understanding their own feelings and the emotions of others.
This appears to be backed up by a number of comparative and randomised controlled studies that have been undertaken to measure changes in the behaviour of participating pupils on different continents.
In every community where it has been tried, it was proven to show “increased peer acceptance” while two in three participants displayed signs of “increased pro-social behaviour traits”.
Additionally, analysts from the University of British Columbia also looked at specific types of aggression, and all studies showed a significant reduction in bullying levels.
Separate data published in Healthcare Quarterly shows that the positive impact lasts for at least three years after the programme ends.
Preliminary findings from ongoing studies at the moment suggest that the effects of the programme could last up to six years.
In Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council’s Psychological Service conducted its own study into Roots of Empathy last year, which showed that the programme significantly increased empathy and decreased aggression in Scottish students. It is also set to be introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year, an independent advisory group to the UK government conducted a six-month review of England’s education system. In its report, Making Education Work, the committee concluded that the school curriculum needs more emphasis on “team working, emotional maturity, empathy and other interpersonal skills.”
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