The newest teacher at Victory School is not certified. In fact, he hasn't even started school.
But baby Eelia Lafatanoa is teaching arguably a far more important subject than long division: empathy.
Victory is one of just two schools in the Nelson region hosting the Roots of Empathy programme, a 27-week course that brings a local newborn, parent and trained instructor into schools. The programme aims to reduce levels of bullying and violence, and promote pro-social behaviours.
It also teaches human development, learning and infant safety, including never to shake a baby and the effects of pre-natal drinking and smoking.
The programme began in Canada in 1996 and research has shown reduced levels of aggression in participants and increased recognition of such traits as kindness and sharing.
Seven-month old Eelia, his mother Kaiya Smith and instructor Jolene Salmond have been visiting a Victory class of year five and six pupils every three weeks or so, and the class' regular teacher, Rachel Edwards, said the pupils loved having the baby visit.
"They'll smile at him and pick him up and give him a cuddle," she said after he had visited yesterday.
She said the programme had made her pupils more aware of other people's feelings and they were linking that to other parts of learning. They had been discussing cyberbullying recently and she was surprised when the children said people who did that must not be aware of how their actions made others feel.
At Motueka's Brooklyn School, baby Chloe Chambers and her mother Claire Chambers have been visiting since April and both Ms Salmond, and their regular teacher, Emma Ryder, said they thought it was especially appropriate for the male-dominated class, which has 15 boys and three girls.
"I've really loved the boys' reaction to having a baby in the class. They are all the ones who want to hold her," said Ms Salmond.
On Monday, when Chloe came to visit, she was smiling at the class as they sang her a welcome song.
"How does it make you feel when baby Chloe gives you a big smile?" asked Ms Salmond.
"It lightens your spirit," said Ryan Patrick.
"I feel warm, fuzzy and soft like a marshmallow," said Eva Knapp.
The topic for the week was developmental milestones and the class noted that Chloe had started to roll over and her mother told them she had started to clap. At that, Ms Salmond suggested they sing If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands, and sure enough, Chloe clapped along with the class.
Afterwards Mrs Chambers, a former teacher, said when she was asked if she would participate in the programme, she thought "it would be such a great thing for the children to follow a baby for a year and such an opportunity to teach empathy".
But she had been surprised that the programme had been such a good experience for herself and Chloe as well.
"From the first day in that classroom she was just beaming."
The programme is mum and baby led, meaning that "our baby is our teacher", said Ms Salmond, with mum setting the rules on what sort of activities were OK for her baby in the classroom. It is split into nine modules, with each consisting of a family visit as well as prep and debrief sessions either side of the visit. It has been running in New Zealand for seven years, but this is the first year the programme, run by Barnados, had been in Nelson.
The life lessons were invaluable, she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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