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March 28, 2013

Babies Bring Lessons of Empathy to Classrooms

While there are many programs around the country that seek to reduce bullying in America’s middle and high schools, Roots of Empathy is taking a drastically different approach; using infants in the classroom to help increase the level of empathy in children.

According to the National Education Association, roughly 160,000 children miss school every day, “due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.” Roots of Empathy seeks to stop these patterns of behavior and create a more empathetic society through targeting K-8 students.

In the program, babies become regular parts of classroom lesson plans that help students relate infant development and emotions to their own lives. Through following the growth and development of infants, students build social and emotional skills through predicting what their infant visitor has learned and where human emotions come from. These exercises have been shown to help students understand differences in social and educational development and to decrease classroom aggression.

Kim Schonert-Reichl, a professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied the impacts of Roots of Empathy, explains that social and emotional learning programs like Roots of Empathy help students to decrease classroom behavior problems and achieve an 11 percentage point increase in standardized test scores.

Currently the Roots of Empathy program is being taught in Washington state, California, New York, Canada, Europe and New Zealand, with plans to expand to even more schools.

Warm up questions

1. What is empathy?

2. Why do people bully others?

3. What do you think are some effective ways of stopping bullying?

Discussion questions

1. What did you find most interesting about this video?

2. Why do you think a lack of empathy may contribute to bullying or aggressive behavior?

3. Have any anti-bullying programs been implemented at your school? Do you think they are effective? Why or why not?

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