Unique program brings babies into local classrooms to teach empathy, prevent bullying

SHORELINE, Wash. -- Bullying remains an issue in our schools.

Some districts are now using an unusual program that believes one of the keys to cutting down on bullying is bringing babies into the classroom.

The program is called Roots of Empathy and it’s used in classrooms around the world, including in the Shoreline School District near Seattle.

When Baby Finn comes to Anne Chalcraft’s third grade class at Meridian Park Elementary, the students clearly adore him, each one greeting him with a touch of his foot as he is brought around the classroom.

“They really feel that baby Finn is part of their class and almost part of their family,” said Chalcraft.

During his many visits, baby Finn really is the teacher. He is showing the students how he is growing and changing, and the kids study his every move.

“There’s something about a baby that makes people drop their guards,” said Suzanna Fix, a school counselor who is also trained in the Roots of Empathy program. “It doesn’t matter what age, people are different when there’s a baby in the room because babies don’t judge you.”

According to the program’s research, the interactions with a baby helps reduce aggression among students, while increasing their empathy for others - and ultimately cutting down on bullying.

“We can use that baby to then teach them about their peers,” said Fix. “We ask them, ‘What do you think baby Finn is feeling?' That’s about the perspective taking. That’s like the starting point to them being able to do that with their peers.”

“When we problem solve and there’s issues on the playground or in the classroom, we’re asking students to think about how what they say in a positive way or negative and how that can impact other people,” said Chalcraft.

The idea is to help change the world child by child, and it’s a program that the Shoreline School District really believes in.

Since 2007, 870 classrooms have taken part.

The kids in that third grade class will be seeing baby Finn at least once a month over the school year, watching him change and grow, and Suzanna Fix hopes, planting their own roots of empathy along the way.

“If we just had more empathy in our world there are so many issues that just wouldn’t be there. If we are just able to see each other for the human beings that we are.”