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Baby helps reduce bullying by teaching empathy

By Ken Johnston

A program aimed at reducing bullying in the future is once again running at Riverview Elementary School.
After a one year hiatus, Roots of Empathy is back. It is a program that uses a baby as a teacher, promoting empathy with the hopes that the program will build a caring, peaceful and civil society.
Nikki Blakeney, who has facilitated it for this her third year, started the 27 week program on October 22nd.
It consists of three visits with students per month. The first is called a “Pre-visit,” and involves Nikki visiting with the class. The second is a “Family Visit” and involves the mom and baby visiting with the class. The third is the “Post-visit” where Blakeney reinforces what the baby taught the kids the visit before.
Blakeney’s job is to guide the children as they observe the relationship between the baby and parent. She also takes the students through an observation process. “We measure and weigh the baby in relation to the students. They then use other aspects of their school day, such as math to learn about the baby.”
The students also are taught to respect the baby’s space. Using a special blanket only for the baby, kids are only allowed into the space when they are invited.
An independent academic research project on Roots of Empathy has concluded, “Children who have participated in Roots of Empathy programs are kinder, more cooperative, and more inclusive of others and are less likely to bully others compared to children who do not participate in the program. These positive effects have been shown to last for years.”
This year’s teacher is baby Blake Hancharyk. He is teaching grades 1 and 2 students at Riverview.
Both Blakeney and former Roots teacher Gabe Langlais, said they see the positive effects of the program. “It stresses empathy and teaches the kids about the stages of growing and how it relates to the kids stages of life,” said Langlais.
“Things like teething vs. losing your baby teeth. We ask them how they feel and how they think the baby feels,” said Blakeney.
In total the program has been delivered in RR six times. The kids learn a great deal about how others feel and how that impacts the way they act towards others.