'Tiny teachers' bring a touch of empathy to classrooms

29th March 2013 at 00:00

Teachers really are getting younger - a new cohort will not even have reached their first birthdays when they arrive in classrooms.

Scotland is to become the first country in the world to introduce a renowned anti-bullying programme - in which babies and their parents visit primaries - to each of its local authorities.

Roots of Empathy came to Scotland in 2010 as a trial in North Lanarkshire. Its underlying philosophy was that children were much more likely to show compassionate behaviour after working with the babies - or "tiny teachers", as the T-shirts they wear to schools spell out.

Now the Scottish government has released #163;1.2 million to extend the programme from 20 authorities to primaries in each of the country's 32 authorities from September.

Research by North Lanarkshire psychologists, involving 785 primary children, found that 55.5 per cent of those who took part showed an increase in "pro-social behaviour" - doing things voluntarily to benefit others - compared with 22.1 per cent in a control group.

Relationships tended to become more respectful after Roots of Empathy, and there was a steep drop in fighting and bullying.

"The programme has been successful far beyond our expectations," said Jane Liddell, North Lanarkshire's head of education quality and support. It had helped children to express their own emotions, she added.

Roots of Empathy, which is run by the charity Action for Children, involves weekly sessions throughout the school year; once a month, a baby and parent take part.

It was designed by social entrepreneur Mary Gordon who, on a visit to Scotland this week, said it was "heartening" to see the country take "such a significant and important step in the education of its future citizens".

Since its 1996 beginnings in Canada, 500,000 children around the world have taken part in Roots of Empathy.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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