“Teachers are getting younger, aren’t they?” goes the hoary old observation. But at a school in East Ayrshire, Scotland, they really are – much younger.
Netherthird Primary School has had huge success with a Roots of Empathy scheme, which brings babies into class to “teach” children.
Roots of Empathy has its origins in Canada and is described on the programme’s website as that country’s “olive branch to the world”: a way of showing children how to care for others and ultimately build “careful, peaceful and civil societies".
Back at Netherthird, where the scheme is in its third year, children in Primary 2 and 3 (aged 5-7) have been getting to know baby Anya Dunsmuir (pictured with Netherthird children). Over the year she will have come to class on nine occasions, impressing the children with her progress each time.
“My kids get so excited,” says class teacher Jacqueline Clapperton. “The first time she started rolling over, my goodness, you should have seen their reaction.”
The scheme is in its third year at Netherthird, and the hope is to run it annually for Primary 3 so that, eventually, all children will have taken part.
The scheme branches off in different directions – children even end up learning about neuroscience. One of the motivations for the school, which is in an area of high deprivation, is to change the mindset of children who may have trouble empathising with others.
“They’re able to see that their actions cause a reaction in someone else – if they hit someone, that person is going to feel upset.” says Miss Clapperton. “You’ll hear them in the playground, saying, ‘You wouldn’t do that to Anya, so don’t say that to me.'”
The most memorable part of Roots of Empathy for Miss Clapperton has been the reaction of one particular boy.
“He came from a very difficult background, was quite a troubled wee soul,” she said. “The joy on his face – I could cry at the thought of it. He was able to express so much how he was feeling through this baby. When he saw Anya was achieving things, he absolutely adored it.”