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Newborn babies to play a vital role in educating children 2 September 2008

NEWBORN babies are to play a vital role in child development in an award-winning project being introduced to the Isle of Man.

Roots of Empathy sees children taught to observe and interact with tiny babies who are taken into schools on a regular basis. The programme will be trialled among Year 2 pupils in 10 primary schools across the Island from this term.

Roots of Empathy allows children to gain insight into how others feel and develop a sense of social responsibility for each other.

Founded by Mary Gordon, it has been pioneered in the USA, Canada and Australia, where evaluations have shown it has had a dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression and violence among schoolchildren by raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy.

Seven independent evaluations found children on the programme showed: Newborn baby

• Increased social and emotional knowledge

• Increased pro-social behaviour (eg, sharing, helping and including) with peers

• Decreased aggression with peers Researchers in three studies looked at specific types of aggression, including bullying.

All studies showed a significant decrease in bullying.

The initiative to introduce the Roots of Empathy programme into Island schools arose from the Early Years Conference hosted by the Department of Education last year.

The Department is working closely with the Departments of Health and Social Security and Home Affairs and with the Isle of Man Children’s Centre. Trainers from the Roots of Empathy organisation will equip local instructors with the skills they need to lead lessons.

New parents whose babies will be between two and four months old in October have volunteered for the project. One or both parents will attend a school with their baby for nine, 40-minute sessions, which end next July.

Acting Deputy Director of Education Stuart Dobson explained:

‘At the heart of the programme is a baby and parent who visit the classroom every three weeks over the school year. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to identify the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the teacher and a lever that the instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.’

The programme explores nine themes: Empathy, culture of caring, respect, power of parenting, participating democracy, inclusion, diversity, infant safety, non-violence/anti-bullying.

Roots of Empathy will also contribute to improving the five priority outcomes for children outlined in the Isle of Man Government’s Strategy for Children and Young People: Staying safe, being healthy, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and prospering.

Mr Dobson said:

‘Roots of Empathy is a valuable, cost-effective investment towards a better future for all young people and will therefore be of benefit for our Isle of Man community. This is a powerful way of tackling the fears expressed about increasing anti-social behaviour.’

Chris Sarson, international director of Roots of Empathy, and Linda Armstrong, a trainer, are in the Island this week together with George Hoskin, who is founder and chief executive of Wave Trust (Worldwide Alternatives to Violence).

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