Babies in the classroom: How infants are teaching students empathy
Source: Sadik Kuzu / Unsplash

Bullying, anger and aggression are things that can be reduced just by having a cute baby around, according to one social program operating in schools around the world.

Roots of Empathy was founded by Dr Mary Gordon in Canada in 1996, and now operates in schools in the United States, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland and even Costa Rica.

Delivered to children from kindergarden to the 8th grade, the course sees mothers visit classes once a month with their babies. Its sessions aim to reduce aggression in children by raising their emotional competence and empathy, in turn producing adults who are less likely to be violent or bad parents.

This experience seeks to “build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.” The Roots of Empathy curriculum is linked to other parts of children’s learning, including mathematics when calculating the baby’s weight and measurements.

It often targets schools where there are high numbers of vulnerable children such as Syrian refugees.

A teacher in action. Source: Roots of Empathy/Facebook

“You really can’t teach empathy,” Dr Gordon told the Huffington Post last year. “Actually we engage the children by asking them to share their perceptions of what is going on with the baby and the caregiver. What we do, coach the children to help them understand a child’s signals and what they mean.”

“What is amazing is that the mood of the classroom is fully accepting and the children become enchanted. We believe in intrinsic motivation and intrinsic pride,” added Gordon, whose work has seen her honoured by the Canadian government and even the Dalai Lama.

“This program is a wonderful example of how the extended community and school community can work together to help develop the next generation of children into caring, empathetic, socially aware people,” said Beth Lapalme, a mother who volunteers with the initiative in Sudbury, Canada.

“The Roots of Empathy program not only makes a difference in the lives of students, but is also a lot of fun.”

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