A few weeks ago I asked my niece, who is in kindergarten, how her day at school was. She told me “It was great, I got to read to a dog.” Apparently, once every couple of months, a dog comes into her class and the kids take turns reading to him. The kids get a captive audience and get to play with the dog for a little while. I thought that was a neat idea until I heard about this program where babies are brought into classrooms for students to observe. I mean dogs are cool, but babies — babies are cooler.
Roots of Empathy is a program where students learn to talk about their feelings and to care for others by interacting with a baby who is brought into their classroom multiple times over the course of the school year. The hope is that the students will become more mindful of others, which will in turn lead to less instances of bullying.
At the heart of the program, which targets K-8 students, is a mission to decrease aggressive behavior patterns at an early age and therefore curb bullying. Roughly 160,000 children miss school every day “due to fear of an attack or intimidation by other students,” according to the National Education Association.
After each visit, the students talk about how the baby has changed from the last time they saw him or her. This creates a forum for the children to also discuss their own feelings, both positive and negative, and it seems to be working.
A 2011 study in the publication Child Development looked at research involving 270,000 students – comparing those who participated in social and emotional learning programs, like Roots of Empathy, with those who had not.
Their findings showed that students who received the training not only increased in social and emotional skills but also had an 11 percentage point increase in standardized achievement test scores.
The program is not only being used to help combat bullying but also to teach kids lessons on responsible parenting that will resonate later in life. So far, it’s only been implemented in a handful of states, but with continued success, we will hopefully being seeing more of this program in the future.