Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Babies go to school to teach

From Kiran Chetry and Dana Garrett, CNN's American Morning
Click to play
Baby helps school prevent bullying
  • Babies help students learn about emotion and reading others' feelings
  • The Roots of Empathy program has reached more than 325,000 children worldwide
  • Program founder: Empathy helps kids navigate through all social relationships in their lives
  • Bullying
  • Education

Toronto (CNN) -- Four-month-old Indigo might not know how to walk or talk yet. But she's already a formidable weapon in the fight against bullying.

On this day, as she makes her way into Denyse Stewart's third-grade classroom in Toronto, the students beam with excitement.

"Hello baby Indigo, how are you? How are you? How are you?"

For the next 30 minutes, Indigo is the teacher, helping these students learn about emotion and how to read another person's feelings -- namely, her own.

The baby's visit is the heart of a program called Roots of Empathy -- a course that is proving to be an effective tool in reducing aggression in schoolchildren.

"The real importance of understanding how you feel and others feel really helps children navigate every social relationship in their lives," said Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy.

Indigo and her parents will make nine visits over the course of the year. A facilitator will visit a total of 27 times to reinforce the lessons, in which understanding and spotting feelings are key.

"Now what is she telling us right now?" the facilitator asked as Indigo starts to cry.

"She doesn't like being on her back," the students replied.

Gordon said she knew bringing a baby and parent into the classroom would strike a chord with kids.

"There's something so engaging between watching the love between a parent and a baby, and since that relationship of attachment and attunement is how we develop our empathy, I thought, well, why not bring the teachers in, the tiny teachers?" Gordon said. "And I just knew in my gut -- it was a by-golly approach -- but now we have a scientific evidence of impact."

Independent studies have found decreased aggression and increased emotional understanding among kids who have been through the program.

Stewart, the third-graders' teacher, said she's witnessed a difference in how her student relate to one another.

"It's a place for them to practice being open," Stewart said, "so when they move outside of the classroom, they know what it feels like to be open, what it feels like to empathize. And it becomes that much easier for them to practice outside of the classroom with other people."

According to its website, the Roots of Empathy program has reached more than 325,000 children worldwide.

Ironically, Gordon did not intend a create an anti-bullying program.

"I was just looking at how do we build (a) more peaceful and civil society through our children," she said. "The fact that the program dramatically reduces bullying, I have to say, just was a wonderful outcome that I hadn't planned on."

And the students in Stewart's class appeared to have grown attached to their infant teacher.

"Goodbye baby Indigo," they said. "See you soon, see you very soon."

Watch American Morning weekdays 6am to 9am ET. For the latest from American Morning click here.