Saturday, July 13, 2024
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    PUPILS at a local school are playing their part in helping to change the world, child by child. All Children’s Integrated Primary School’s P5 class are amongst more than one million children globally to have participated in an initiative which aims to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy. They are taking part in the Roots of Empathy initiative, which works to significantly reduce levels of aggression among children, including bullying, while raising their social and emotional competence and increasing their ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This international, evidence and empathy-based classroom programme is designed for children aged between five and 13. Established in Canada, it now runs in countries across the world, including New Zealand, the US, Norway, Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands and the UK. At the very heart of the initiative are volunteer parents with their infants who visit the classroom throughout the school year. As part of this project, which has been running at the Newcastle school for several years, this year’s P5 class receives regular visits from little Senán Dagen, an adorable eight-month-old and his mummy, Ciara. The children, with the help of Roots of Empathy volunteer instructor Fiona Simmons, have charted Senán’s progress and how he is growing and learning more and more. Senán and Ciara are amongst a team of families who have been invited by the charity to visit schools and demonstrate the power of a secure attachment relationship between infant and parent – the first and most powerful model of empathy. Fiona, who became a Roots of Empathy volunteer in 2018 after stumbling across one of the charity’s social media posts, encourages the children to observe the baby’s development, temperament and reactions. The pupils are also given the opportunity to express, through reading, talking and drawing, their own feelings and reflect on their earlier years and their continued development. As the local woman explained, the family’s visits to the classroom occur once every three weeks over the course of the school year. She says it is “a privilege to be able to provide this role” and see the children “flourish.” Fiona, in this instance, visits alongside Ciara and Senán to guide the children as they observe the relationship between the pair. She also visits before and after each family visit to reinforce the various themes touched upon. In the programme, the baby is the ‘tiny teacher’, and with each family visit, Fiona encourages the children to notice how he is growing and changing over the course of his first year of life. The children also watch the loving relationship between Senán and Ciara, and see how she responds to her baby’s emotions and meets his needs. “The attachment relationship between a baby and a parent is an ideal model of empathy,” she explained. “Children learn to understand the perspective of the baby and label the baby’s feelings, and then are guided in extending this learning outwards so they have a better understanding of their own feelings and the feelings of others. “This emotional literacy lays the foundation for more safe and caring classrooms, where children are ‘changers’. They are more socially and emotionally competent and much more likely to challenge cruelty and injustice.

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