Learning empathy with Scotland's tiny teachers

Almost 200 babies are taking on the role of 'tiny teacher' as the anti-bullying initiative Roots of Empathy is rolled out in primary schools across Scotland during this school year.

Roots of Empathy was introduced to schools in Scotland in 2010 when Action for Children Scotland piloted the programme in ten schools in North Lanarkshire. Following funding of £1.2 million from the Scottish Government, Roots of Empathy will now be made available to schools from the Western Isles to the Borders over the next two years - making Scotland the first country to offer the internationally-acclaimed programme in in every council area.

Roots of Empathy helps schoolchildren to understand their feelings and the feelings of others by taking a baby - known as a 'tiny teacher' - and its parent into the classroom for regular visits throughout the school year. During the classroom visits, pupils take part in activities to help them form a close bond with 'their' baby - such as singing songs, playing and reading. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor guides the class in labelling the baby's emotions and talking about topics such as crying, safety and communicating.

Roots of Empathy raises levels of empathy amongst the children, creates more respectful relationships and results in reduced problem behaviour (including fighting and bullying) in the classroom. Independent research has revealed that 55.5 percent of primary school pupils who receive the programme display an increase in pro-social behaviour (voluntary behaviour intended to benefit others, such as helping, sharing, co-operating, and volunteering). This is 33.4 percent more than in pupils in a control group, who did not receive Roots of Empathy.

As well as developing skills to form relationships with others, the children experience the loving relationship between parent and baby.  They explore the importance of attachment, what it is and how it affects brain development as the baby grows.  Providing this parent role model helps children to understand the roles and responsibilities of parenting, preparing them to be parents of the future.

Carrie Wallace, a new mum from Glasgow, takes part in Roots of Empathy with her baby, Holly. She said: 'As well as Holly, I have a three-year-old and I hate to think about them growing up, going to school and being bullied. I think that anything that encourages children to be more caring and considerate is only a good thing and I am happy to help if I can. I had heard about Roots of Empathy and thought it sounded really interesting so I decided to take part.

'All of the pupils are so enthusiastic when we go into the class; it's really lovely to see. And Holly really seems to love the attention. I am looking forward to celebrating all her milestones with our class.'

Roots of Empathy originates in Canada, where it was developed by internationally-recognised social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert, Mary Gordon, in 1996. Over 500,000 children have taken part in the programme worldwide, including in Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Germany.

For more information on Roots of Empathy in Scotland contact Janine Ryan, programme manager, Action for Children

0141 552 2278


Action for Children Scotland supports and speaks out for the UK's most vulnerable and neglected children and young people, for as long as it takes to transform their lives. It works directly with 5,000 children, young people, parents and carers in Scotland each year and runs 75 services across the country.  More information at www.actionforchildren.org.uk