Parents, newborns teach empathy in Lane County classrooms

Roots of Empathy will be in 30 classrooms this school year.

Posted: Oct 9, 2019 5:55 PM
Updated: Oct 10, 2019 9:44 AM

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- A program that brings newborn babies and their parents into elementary school classrooms is hoping to get students in touch with their emotions.

Roots of Empathy is a program designed to use the parent-child bond to teach early elementary-aged students social and emotional competence. Parents selected for their strong bond with their newborn visit a classroom nine times throughout the school year. Guided by a trained instructor, students observe the baby's development and learn to identify it's feelings and intentions. 

Various lessons include learning how to determine what foods a baby does or doesn't like and learning how to handle a child when they are fussing.

Kayla Allen and Abigail, her daughter, took part in the program during its first year. Allen said she noticed the transformation students underwent as they got comfortable with Abigail.

"The second she starts fussing or you can tell she doesn't prefer a certain toy, they want to fix it. They want to help. It took everything to keep them off of the big, green blanket because they all wanted to play with her so much," she said. 

In its second year, the program is expanding throughout Lane County. It's planned by 90 by 30, an organization that hopes to reduce child abuse in the area 90 percent by 2030. Following the success of its initial rollout, Roots of Empathy will be in 30 classrooms this school year. 

According to pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw, schools across the country that have been involved with Roots of Empathy report a reduction of bullying and other negative behaviors in students.

"When kids are in this age in the early elementary school years, they have identified very strongly their sense of self, and they are trying to understand what human relationships should look like," Bradshaw said.

Some local parents have also seen a change in their children after going through the program. Claire Savin is a volunteer Roots of Empathy instructor whose son also went through the program. After one lesson where students sang to the baby, Savin said the difference in her child was immediate.

"The day after the baby came, he laid out his stuffies on his bed and sang to them before school. And he doesn't like to sing," she said.

Organizers say they hope to continue expanding the program to more Lane County classrooms.

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