|Anne Bruce: Journalist||
Last Christmas an appeal appeared in my son’s school newsletter.
The school wanted mums to bring babies into Reception class once a week for “Babywatching”.
“Babywatching” helps children talk about feelings and develop empathy, the newsletter explained. “All you have to do is play with your baby!”
I had a new baby. I was up for it. So I spoke to the teacher and set an appointment. We would
visit at 12.30 on Fridays.
The first session was in January. I entered the classroom unsure what to expect. A group of small children was seated cross-legged around a large mat, clearly on tenterhooks.
I quickly lay the baby down down in the centre for inspection. She was a 10 week old girl, I said. The teacher explained that we would be visiting all academic year.
The baby lay waving her legs and gurgling. Could she walk? asked one child. Was it a boy or a girl? asked another.
“I like her dress” said one. “I like her dress” said another. We agreed that it was a lovely dress and the ice was broken.
Time to cut to the chase: “Why doesn’t she have any hair?”
Clothing, lack of hair and whether the baby was a girl or a boy were enduring themes over the next two terms.
The class also witnessed milestones such as first tooth, rolling over, sitting up and in June, crawling.
Discussing your baby’s progress with a group of five year olds was an odd and sometimes surreal experience.
The school also took part in a
scheme at Easter where chicken eggs were hatched in an incubator in class.
That week the teacher asked Class to compare the baby to a baby chicken. Predictably, it came down to hair.
Baby chickens had yellow fur but this baby had no hair.
The baby loved her sessions and the children grew fond of her. We were often “mobbed” in the playground by five year olds wanting to hug her.
Our last session was very poignant. The children sang a song: “goodbye little bird, it’s time to fly.” There was also a book of thank you notes.
At this stage Maria was still fairly bald. But everyone was older and wiser. She looked like a boy because she had no hair, one child
decreed. With the hair thing sussed it was a good point to say farewell.
Occasionally our sessions had been filmed by the child psychotherapist who is bringing “BASE” to the UK: “Babywatching to reduce Aggression and increase Sensitivity and Empathy”.
I discovered that we had taken part in the only UK pilot. Our footage is being used in training as the not-for-profit scheme rolls out.
Fourteen “BASE” groups launched in the UK in September, and more start in January.
Primary schools include it on the Personal Health and Social Education curriculum. It is also seen as helpful for language development, particularly language expressing feelings.