Just the other day NPR’s All Things Considered talked about a new book by Lisa Grunwald called The Irresistible Henry House. Her novel, which I’m now dying to read, is about the home economics programs that were offered at colleges in the early 1900’s. Considering my post yesterday about the importance of teaching parents to parent, are “Practice Babies” the solution I was looking for? Should one of the General Education requirement for college be “Practice Parenting”? You know what, yes, I think it should be. But, if I was going to offer this class there are a few things I would change from the 1950’s model presented in this NPR article. :-)
About the article: In the 1950’s there were more than 40 colleges that offered programs where college students learned mothering skills. Babies from local orphanages would be lent to the school so that students could practice caring for them. The programs varied by college but basically one mother would be in charge of caring for the baby for a certain period of time (either a few hours or a few days at a time!). Once that student/mom’s shift, or “class” was over, the baby was handed off to be cared for by the next student. (More details about these “Practice Babies” Programs can be found here; about Cornell’s Practice Apartments and Practice babies, here; Time Magazine 1954 article about Resident Baby, here ).
Well, if I wanted Driver’s Ed for Parenting, these programs are offering just what I wanted- mothering skills classes and “on the road” experience caring for a real baby!!! Luckily, we are now in the 21st century and instead of loaner babies, parenting classes and practice parenting experiences are now being offered in some high schools with computerized baby dolls (phew!). At Monroe High School in Monroe, WI, a course is offered called “Baby Think It Over” in which students are given a programmable baby doll to care for. I think this programs and computerized babies are great first steps in recognizing how hard it is to care for a baby and to get some practice, however, I hope these courses (both the ones in the 1950’s and the ones today) provide students with information about what to expect from your baby as it grows and develops. How should you talk to a baby? What toys are helpful for cognitive development? What do you do when your baby is crying all night long and can’t seem to be soothed? Is reading your child important and if so why? Should your baby be watching “Baby videos” like Baby Einstein? Is music good for children? What developmental milestones should you expect and when should you worry about delays in development?
Maybe Practice Babies are not the way to go, but Practice Parenting could be- but lets take advantage of the digital age and use the computerized babies please!