Wanted: Tiny teachers to help kids grow in Yorkshire first

Tiny teacher Oliver Thirlaway with mum Linzy at a Roots of Empathy project at Walkergate Primary in the North East.
Tiny teacher Oliver Thirlaway with mum Linzy at a Roots of Empathy project at Walkergate Primary in the North East.
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THEY MAY make unlikely educators - but ‘tiny teachers’ are set to make a big impact on the emotional development of children across parts of South Yorkshire.

The charity Action for Children is bringing the internationally acclaimed Roots of Empathy programme to Doncaster.

Baby Oliver Thirlaway and pupils from Walkergate Primary, Newcastle

Baby Oliver Thirlaway and pupils from Walkergate Primary, Newcastle

It encourages children to understand their feelings, and those of others, by interacting in a nurturing manner by taking a baby - or ‘tiny teacher’- into the classroom throughout the school year.

Roots of Empathy began in Canada almost 20 years ago and was first brought to the UK by Action for Children several years ago, but the Doncaster scheme, which will see 20 babies ‘teach’ in ten primary and infant schools, is the first in Yorkshire.

It is now looking for babies - and parents - to help.

Action for Children’s Roots of Empathy coordinator for the North of England, Charlotte Dack, said: “We’re already running the programme in Scotland, Wales and the north east, and we see that it makes a huge impact.

“Teachers tell us that by the end of the year, the class feels more like a family than a group of pupils, and it helps to create a more respectful and caring class.

“Our research shows dramatic reduction in levels of bullying, hurtful comments and aggression because the children understand the impact of their behaviours.”

The programme, which is funded through Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust and Doncaster Council, will see babies spend time in classes of five and nine-year-olds.

As well as learning about the baby’s development throughout the year, children learn about what the baby might be feeling using toys, songs, reading, artwork and discussion - all aimed at raised levels of empathy. It has also proved to beneficial for the tiny teachers and their families, increasing confidence.

Miss Dack said: “We’re trying to understand feelings and emotions and what better way to do that than with a live subject? The instructor will demonstrate to the children what physical things the baby can do, through things like baby yoga, and the children get to see how the baby changes - standing up for the first time or getting their first tooth.

“The mums and dads love it too because they get to celebrate their little ones’ milestones. It’s nice for them to sit back and see the observations the kids make - for example, the children will notice if the babies’ hair has grown, something a parent might not notice when they see them every day.”

At the end of the year, the babies are invited to a party celebrating the end of the programme, and the school children fill in wishes for the baby’s future.

Miss Dack added: “It’s wonderful to see how much the babies have changed and how much the children have gained from the programme.”

Doncaster Council’s local area service delivery manger, Sue Davies, said Roots of Empathy’s mission of building a caring community through encouraging empathy fitted with its aims of promoting increased positive self-esteem and confidence in children.

It expects to see fewer referrals to its Early Help Service thanks to the programme.

Roots of Empathy’s success relies upon volunteer ‘tiny teachers’ - 20 of whom are needed in Doncaster.

Miss Dack said: “This is a great opportunity to learn about your baby’s development and celebrate all their tiny milestones, whilst making a real and lasting impact on children in your local community. If your baby was born in June, July or August this year please do get in touch – your little bundle of joy could be our next Tiny Teacher.”

Contact Miss Dack on 0191 2724990 or email charlotte.dack@actionforchildren.org.uk