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2 November 2011
Babies are to be employed as 'tiny teachers' in classrooms throughout Scotland as part of a pioneering Action for Children programme to reduce levels of bullying and aggression in schools.
Roots of Empathy- 'empathy' being the ability to identify and understand another's feelings - encourages children to interact in a nurturing manner by bringing a real baby and its parent into the classroom over the course of a school year. Observing the attentive, loving interaction between the parent and child teaches pupils to better understand their own feelings and the feelings of others.
The primary focus of the programme is to reduce problem behaviour, including fighting and bullying. Louise Warde-Hunter, strategic director of children's services at Action for Children, explains how it works:
"Roots of Empathy teaches school children to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others by using a baby as the 'tiny teacher'. This raises levels of empathy amongst classmates, resulting in more respectful relationships and a dramatic reduction in levels of aggression among school children.
"We are proud to introduce Roots of Empathy inScotlandand would like to thank our partners in Scottish Government for their support. Action for Children has a proven track record for developing innovative approaches which help to significantly improve outcomes for vulnerable children, families and young people. At Action for Children, we are committed to promoting the benefits of early intervention and Roots of Empathy is an excellent example of this. By increasing levels of 'emotional literacy' in children at a young age we can lay the foundation for safe and caring classrooms and, in the long-term, safe and caring societies."
Roots of Empathy is endorsed by the World Health Organisation and the Dali Lama. Independent evaluations of the programme carried out in Canada- where it originated and has been active for the longest period of time - revealed a significant increase in peer acceptance in 74% of children and a decrease in social aggression in 39% of children.
Action for Children is introducing the programme to primary schools in 15 local authorities acrossScotlandfollowing investment from the Early Years Early Action Fund, delivered by InspiringScotlandin partnership with the Scottish Government. Angela Constance MSP, the Minister for Children and Young People, said:
"This contribution from the Early Years Early Action Fund will enable Action for Children to expand its programmeRoots of Empathyto 15 local authorities and in doing so, help children build their understanding of how others feel.
"In taking an early intervention approach to reducing aggression and bullying in schools and increasing positive behaviour, the initiative fits well with the Scottish Government's overall vision for the early years."
Andrew Muirhead, chief executive of InspiringScotland, said:
"It is abundantly clear the support a child receives in their earliest years becomes a huge factor in their later life. We are delighted to support Action for Children, through the Early Years Early Action Fund, to roll out this programme which will help young children acrossScotlandto get the best start in life and enable them to go on to achieve their potential."
Over 150 baby volunteers have been recruited to take part in the programme. With their parents, the 'tiny teachers' will take part in nine visits to primary three classes over the course of the next year. The sessions will be led by Action for Children staff, trained in the methods of Roots of Empathy.
Roots of Empathy was developed by internationally-recognised social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert, Mary Gordon, in 1996. Over 450,000 children have taken part in the programme worldwide, includingCanada, theUSA,New Zealand, the Isle of Man,Northern Ireland and theRepublic ofIreland. The programme was piloted in North Lanarkshire last year by Action for Children - the first time it was delivered anywhere inBritain. Mary Gordon said:
"Changing the world, child by child, may be an ambitious mission but here inScotlandRoots of Empathy has benefited from a wide community of support and expertise. We are thrilled to be working with Action for Children as our lead agency and so pleased with what we achieved together through last year's pilot project. The Scottish Government's ongoing support is a huge vote of confidence in our ability to extend that success across the country as we expand into more classrooms."
At the Scottish launch of Roots of Empathy tonight [2 November], Mary will speak alongside Angela Constance MSP, as well as Margaret Mitchell MSP, who last year lodged a Parliamentary motion welcoming the launch of Roots of Empathy inScotland. Representatives from Action for Children and North Lanarkshire Council will give perspectives on the success of the pilot and how Roots of Empathy will benefit Scottish schools. Jane Liddell, head of education quality and support at North Lanarkshire Council, said:
"The programme has been successful far beyond our expectations. It has been warmly endorsed by our schools as energising the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence, particularly within Health and Wellbeing, and enriching our own flagship policy, 'Raising Achievement for All'.
"The growing relationship between the baby and the class has motivated our children to engage enthusiastically with the learning, and has supported them to express their own emotions and grow in empathy, helping them to understand the effect of their own behaviour on others. We are delighted to be able to extend this opportunity across North Lanarkshire Schools."