Five “tiny teachers” from the Roots of Empathy program in Langley enjoyed a year-end party at the library in Langley Fine Arts School on June 1. These babies, along with their family members and a Roots of Empathy instructor, went into eight Langley schools this year.

Tiny teachers changing students’ lives

They may be the tiniest teachers in Langley’s school system, but the impact they are making in young students’ lives is huge

They may be the tiniest teachers in Langley’s school system, but the impact they are making in young students’ lives is huge.

Babies and their moms are visiting Langley elementary school classrooms, bringing the Roots of Empathy program to primary students with the idea that they, in turn, will become more empathetic, caring people because of it.

On June 2, teachers, parents, grandparents and five “tiny teachers” held a celebration in the library of Langley Fine Arts school to mark another successful year of the Roots of Empathy Program, which is in its 15th year in B.C. schools.

“This program is changing the world, child by child,” said Adrianna Austin, co-ordinator of the Langley Roots of Empathy program.

“You can’t teach empathy through traditional school curriculum. And while reading, writing and numeracy are very important, just as important is students learning how to relate with each other.”

Research on the Roots of Empathy program has demonstrated that the students who participate in this program display lower levels of aggression and higher levels of pro-social behavior (sharing, caring, etc.) than their peers who do not receive the program.

The effects have been shown to be long lasting, with those same students still showing less aggression at least three years after the baby has left the class.

In fact, those students who have gone through the program, have had lower incidents of bullying in their schools.

“Through this program, the students can better label their own emotions by learning the emotions displayed by the baby,” said Cora Boecker, Infant Development Programme supervisor with Langley Child Development Centre.

With many children arriving to kindergarten unable to self-regulate and with behavioral issues, this program is needed more than ever, said Boecker.

Babies who take part in the program start out between two to four months of age and will make nine visits to the classroom in a year.

The Roots of Empathy trained instructor makes an additional 18 visits to the classroom. During these visits the instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings and intentions.

The baby is the catalyst that helps young students identify and reflect on their own feelings and feelings of others. The program has proven to increase social and emotional competence.

While students benefit from the program, moms and babies do too.

Langley mom Kara said participating in the program, which runs from October to June, helped her to be more in tune with her baby.

“And it made my daughter more social, too,” Kara said.

“As a parent, it gave me confidence having to answer all the kids questions about my baby.”

For first-time mom Sarah, the Roots of Empathy program was the highlight of her maternity leave.

“I felt like I have this community. Exposing Judah to the program is such a benefit. It’s neat seeing him through the kids’ eyes, watching him develop.”

For the teachers, who take an observing role, it’s an opportunity “to view students through a different lens,” said Austin.

“The students are sharing their feelings while on the green blanket. It can be a good cue for the teachers on what is going on emotionally with their students.”

The tiny teachers love all the attention and young faces.

“The babies are the real rock stars to the kids,” she said.

“The students can’t wait to see them. There is nothing better than seeing a student connect with a baby — their eyes light up, the baby smiles, it’s powerful.”

During the 2015/16 school year, instructors have delivered the Roots of Empathy program in eight Langley elementary schools. In total, 10,275 students in B.C. took in the program this year.

They hope to expand the program’s reach for the 2016/17 school year and are currently recruiting volunteer instructors to be trained this fall, said Austin.

The Roots of Empathy program started in Canada, but has expanded to 10 countries.

To be an instructor, the program pays for four days of training and you must commit to delivering once a week for 45 minutes in a classroom for 27 weeks, as well as approximately one hour of prep time for each of the 27 lessons.

Austin, who is the regional co-ordinator, said they have nurses, firefighters, school secretaries and anyone is welcome to apply to become a volunteer instructor.

Anyone who is interested in being part of this program, whether as an instructor or as a volunteer family, is asked to contact Adrianna Austin at aaustin@rootsofempathy.org.

To learn more about the program go to rootsofempathy.org.