The World's Youngest Teachers Help Children Learn About Empathy

Babies visit schools in Scotland and help raise the level of empathy and reduce bullying in the classrooms.

Apr 13, 2019

Three babies, the children of teachers on maternity leave, visit elementary school-aged children to help the students learn about empathy. They are the world's youngest teachers.

At Ardgowan Primary School in Greenock Scotland, the babies who range from 3-10 months old are brought to school once every three weeks. The school children are taught about empathy, understanding, and responsibility by seeing the babies grow and develop.

The program isn't new; it began in 2010 when Scotland became the first country to implement Roots of Empathy in every school district. The Canadian based organization, established by Mary Gordon in 1996, offers empathy-based programming to teach the next generation how to be responsible citizens and parents by raising the amount of empathy children feel. They do this by bringing babies into elementary school classrooms.

When the babies visit, a trained Roots of Empathy instructor is there to coach the students to observe the baby's development and to label what the baby is feeling. This allows the baby to be the teacher and help the students identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others. It's called emotional literacy and it is the foundation for more caring and safer school classrooms according to the organization.

The students are encouraged to ask questions about how to take care of the babies at different stages and what types of things the babies can and can't do. Teacher Charlene McClusky, who brings her infant son to Ardgowan Primary School told Good News Network, "They ask us lots of different questions about what the babies like to do, how we look after them, what to do if they’re being grumpy and they just love getting to know the children and see how they grow and develop."

Teacher Stacy-Lee McLellan brings her 8-month old son to school told Good News that the worst behaved children are usually the most receptive to meeting the babies. “Even for kids who are a little challenging, they really adapt when the babies are in,” said McLellan. “It’s often them who are interacting more on a one-to-one level.”

The Roots of Empathy instructors also visit the classrooms before and after the babies visit (for a total of 27 visits) to reinforce the teachings using specialized lesson plans from the Roots of Empathy curriculum for each visit. The lessons include social including and activities that help create a culture of caring in the classrooms. The baby's mothers volunteer to come into the classrooms.

The teachers see the benefits to the students first-hand. “It has taught the children a lot. They have been able to see the development of the children and they’ve been able to understand how much hard work it is to take care of a child, starting from when they’re babies,” third-grade teacher Roly Srivastava told Good News. “They’ve learned more about babies and how they are themselves growing up. And they’ve learned more about each other’s feelings as well.”

The program is designed for children ages 5-13 and is used in Canada, US, UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. The program's curriculum is available in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch.

The Roots of Empathy program has been incredibly successful and was recognized as one of the most inspiring global innovations in K-12 education by HundrEd.org. UpSocial even chose Roots of Empathy as the winner of its social innovation competition Accelerating Change for Social Inclusion (ASCI) to address the risk to children of social exclusion.

Children who are empathetic and care about others have increased social and emotional competence and reduced levels of bullying, aggression, and violence. This makes our classrooms more peaceful and more caring. When these children grow up, they can make our society better too.

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