Melissa Nicholson and her son Peyton were part of a unique program at the Rhineland Child Care Centre in Altona this year. Known as Seeds of Empathy, the program had preschoolers follow Peyton's development since he was three months old. Peyton was also part of a similar program at Parkside School called Roots of Empathy.
It's been a busy year for Peyton Nicholson.
At the tender age of one, he's already been a teacher for a group of preschoolers and a group of Jr. high students.
The tot and his mom, Melissa, participated in sister programs known as Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy.
Both programs are designed to foster emotional competence and social growth in children by following the progress and development of a baby. Seeds of Empathy is the younger sibling of Root of Empathy, specifically geared to preschoolers, encouraging early literacy skills and positive attitudes in children three to five years of age.
The award-winning program began with educator Mary Gordon in 1996, and now reaches 450,000 world-wide.
Research has shown that by learning about the feelings of a baby, children can also learn more about their own feelings and develop a deeper understanding of the feelings of others.
The program is intended to encourage compassion and self-acceptance, all the while teaching a sense of nurturing and conflict resolution.
By observing the loving relationship between the baby and his mother, children also learn the value of being loved and the affect it has on growth and development.
Rhineland Child Care Centre director Dolores Deppe says this is the first year the centre has participated in the program.
"It was very successful and we hope to have another baby come around in September," she says.
The centre has about 50 children in their care in a given year.
Deppe can't say enough about the value of the Seeds of Empathy program.
"The goal was to teach empathy in the children and to problem solve and recognize other people's feelings," she says.
"It also teaches them how to build relationships with others, and I was already seeing the affect of that on some of our children."
Deppe cites one case where two children got into a conflict, and another child stepped forward and said, "Look at his face, he isn't happy."
Every month featured a different theme, with lessons and picture books to go with those themes.
The mother and baby came for monthly visits, and children could ask questions and observe the baby, marvelling at how much he had changed.
"They learned about the importance of sleep and nutrition. They found out about why babies cry and how to comfort them."
Deppe says the picture books that came with the program also encouraged an interest in reading that some of the children had not displayed until then.
"It really develops that social and reading readiness that children this age need to develop for their early years of school."