01/02/2012 07:31 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Baby 'Teachers' To Be Brought Into Classrooms To Tackle Bullying

Baby 'teachers' to be brought into classrooms to tackle bullying Rex Features

Babies are being recruited as "tiny teachers" as a radical way of combating bullying.

Education chiefs believe that the presence of babies will help educate children as young as four about emotional literacy.

Primary schools in the London boroughs of Lewisham and Croydon will be the first in England to try the experiment.

It's based on a scheme brought from overseas which showed that "tiny teachers" helped stopped older children picking on each other by showing them how to be kind and nurturing.

The Roots of Empathy scheme, aimed primarily at five- to 10-year-olds from problem homes, has reduced rates of bullying in the US, Canada and New Zealand.

The Big Lottery will fund the schemes to the tune of £900,000. Organisers are looking for 25 pregnant women to volunteer to take their babies into schools nine times during the school year.

Trainers will also visit from Canada to educate local instructors in running the programme.

Children learn by interacting with the babies, observing how they grow and change, and the emotions they display. An instructor visits the class before and after each baby visit to help the children think about what they have learned about caring, communicating and safety.

Val Pope, executive manager at the Lewisham Pre-School Learning Alliance, told the Evening Standard: "Roots has an incredible impact on levels of aggression in children and on issues such as bullying and inclusion.

"It improves children's social and emotional competence - increased sharing, helping, caring and empathy. And research has shown that empathy is an antidote to violence.


The instructors work alongside the teacher in the classroom to support the children's learning - but the real teacher is the baby, who is placed on a green blanket in the middle of the room.


"The main aim is to encourage young children to understand what is involved in responsive, responsible and nurturing parenting.

"For some children, this may be the first time they have had access to such a loving parenting experience."

Experts say babies can "sense" if a child has emotional problems, such as feeling that they are an outsider, and will often crawl towards that child for a cuddle.

In one Canadian school, the tiny teacher chose to crawl towards the only child with hands in his pockets. The boy had been born with an abnormal thumb and was self-conscious about holding the baby. His classmates all cheered when he eventually picked up the infant.

Parenting expert Mary Gordon set up the charity which runs Roots of Empathy in Canada in 1996. At first, 150 children benefited. A total of 325,000 have since been involved worldwide. The charity claims the scheme reduces aggression in nearly two in five children and increases tolerance in nearly three quarters.

What do you think?
Anything that helps children feel empathy and interest must be a good thing?