Roots of Empathy celebration recognises benefits of unique education programme
Roots of Empathy (Isle of Man) recently held its third year “baby Celebration”. Parents, babies, instructors and teachers who have taken part in the scheme were joined by other friends and supporters of the programme which aims to develop pro-social behaviour in children and decrease bulling.
Roots of Empathy has operated in 27 of the Island’s 35 primary schools throughout the last academic year. It is a programme based around classroom visits by a baby and parent. Through guided observations of this loving relationship school children learn to identify and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, and those of others, to develop a sense of empathy and understanding. Independent evaluations consistently indicate that children who take part in the Roots of Empathy programme show improvements in positive social behaviour and a decrease in aggression.
The Isle of Man programme, which began in 2008 is run via a partnership involving The Children’s Centre and four government departments – education and children, health, social care and home affairs. In its first year Roots of Empathy courses were held in 10 schools. This was expanded to 19 schools in the programme’s second year, and 27 this year. John Knight, Chief Executive of The Children’s Centre, said:
“Roots of Empathy continues to make a real impact on the Island’s children. Significantly this is not just about today’s community but also about the one we’re building for the future. Developing empathy amongst our children and encouraging a more caring society must be a positive for everyone on Island. More than 1,100 children have now been through a Roots of Empathy programme and we are pleased to know that funding is secure for our next year.”
Trained Roots of Empathy instructors run the classes as part of the school curriculum and over the course of the school year there are nine Roots of Empathy sessions held at each school. Children learn to appreciate the needs of the baby and the visits provide an opportunity to learn about all aspects of child care.
These lessons are then used to discuss broader aspects of social relationships and the importance of developing an understanding and caring attitude. Over the period of a year children begin to relate to the baby and how he or she is developing. Children discuss the baby’s development and begin to empathise with the baby and its parents. The Roots of Empathy programme then takes these feelings and relates them back to the behaviour of the school children towards one another.
For example, children are asked to think about how the baby would like to be treated as it gets older and goes to school. Children accept that they wouldn’t want to see the baby bullied or teased and this leads to an understanding of the hurt such behaviour can cause to their classmates.
The Roots of Empathy programme was founded in Canada in 1996 by Mary Gordon, an internationally renowned parenting expert, teacher and author. So far the programme has reached more than 325,000 children worldwide, including Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. The benefits of Roots of Empathy teaching have been recognised by the World Health Organization. The Isle of Man scheme is the only Roots of Empathy programme anywhere in the British Isles and Europe and during last year’s course research was conducted by the University of British Columbia about its impact. The results of the study will be published in October, but initial findings indicate that the programme has had significant, positive impact on school children who have taken part. Funding for the research came from the Lottery Trust, H&S Davidson Trust and Isle of Man Brand Champions.
For more information about Roots of Empathy go to www.rootsofempathy.org
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