By Carl O'Brien
THERE’S A buzz in the air of St Joseph’s Girls National School in Finglas as children wait for their teacher to arrive.
But this is a visiting teacher like no other: toddler Jayden McManus is teaching the children about empathy, parenting skills and emotional responses.
It’s part of a programme developed in Canada called Roots of Empathy, an evidence-based programme that has been shown to reduce levels of aggression among school children, raise their social and emotional competence, and increase their empathy.
Schoolchildren learn to observe the baby closely and understand its needs, emotional responses and view of the world.
As they do so, they gradually learn to bring the same attention to their classmates. As well as empathy, children learn parenting skills and ways to develop a caring attitude for others.
“It’s helping children to recognise their feelings and the feelings of others, and to take control and ownership of their feelings and responses,” says Kerri Smith of Barnardos, the lead agency delivering the programme in classrooms across Ireland. By next year, it’s hoped the programme will have expanded from 35 to 75 schools.
And the Government is considering proposals to include a version for even younger children – called “Seeds of Empathy” – in the free pre-school year scheme.
Much of this has happened thanks to an initiative formally launched earlier this year called Change Nation.
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