Baby Steps on Infant Care


On Friday, Feb. 17, students in Mrs. Foster’s Child Development class took home some extra-complicated homework: a baby.

Not a real baby, of course – but almost. Six students took home RealCare baby infant simulators. This “smart baby” doll is programmed to need feeding, changing and burping; the tracking knows if it has been mishandled – shaken, handled roughly, or the head not held up properly.

It’s all part of a lesson on the challenges of caring for an infant. The students took the babies home for 48 hours of care. The babies needed to be fed, changed, held and cared for. And if their needs are not met, they cry until their caregiver can discern what they need – just like an actual baby.

The students returned their babies to school after their weekend of caregiving – except for one student, who forgot their baby at home. And those mistakes are a critical part of the lesson – Mrs. Foster had to remind the class that those errors, in real life, would result in a call to Child Protective Services.

The students admitted to being a bit intimidated by the prospect of caring for a newborn for an entire weekend. Ayden Conley, 15, a freshman, said it was definitely a learning experience.

“I was really excited to take it home,” he said. “But I was kind of nervous for the crying.”

His baby interrupted his video games by crying. But Conley adapted, learning how to hold the baby while he played. At one point, he got overwhelmed and just walked away, telling his mother he needed to take a walk. He returned, figured out how to hold the baby on his chest, and resumed gaming.

Sophomore Lamiah Hannon has helped out with her younger siblings, so she thought she knew what she was in for.

“I knew it was going to be some work,” she said. “But it wasn’t like that at all.”

She took the baby out to eat with her family Friday night. The baby cried right where their orders arrived, which she found embarrassing. And her baby had her up every two hours in the night.

“Saturday was terrible,” she said. “It kept waking me up in the middle of the night. That baby knew on Saturday I just wanted to relax.”

Ninth-grader Jaycie Saltsman said she, too, expected the baby to be work. And she knew the baby would cry, but she was unprepared for the reality.

“It screams!” she said. “It just gradually gets louder. It was embarrassing when I had it out in public. We had to find a bathroom.”

She had her challenges trying to get the baby to sleep and to stop crying. Along with some other real-life complications: she would have liked a girl, yet she was given a boy. 

The students all agreed that finding out what the different cries meant was challenging, and there was some satisfaction in figuring them out, then meeting the babies’ needs. Sometimes, they said, nothing would work, which was very stressful.

It was a lesson in the time commitment and sacrifice required to care for an infant. In some cases, a hard lesson. One student admitted to leaving the baby in the car while out shopping. Upon realizing what she had done, she loudly exclaimed that she had to go and get her baby out of the car. Another shopper, overhearing her, commented, “I don’t think she’s ready to have kids yet.”

Which was a sentiment shared by all the students. They learned a lot not only about baby care, but about everything that is involved. Freedom is lost when a baby comes along, one boy said. High school students have educations to finish, lives to lead. A baby does not fit into that plan. No one, it seems, was ready for that kind of responsibility.

“At least not right now,” Hannon said. “Maybe someday.”

Applied Educational Neuroscience:
Giving Students Tools to Succeed

Elementary students at Amelia Earhart Elementary gather in a circle to start their day. After some breathing exercises, they take a few minutes for a voluntary check-in, where they may share any concerns. The check-ins vary, with one boy worried about his sick dog, another girl anxious about her younger sister, who is ill. Some students prefer not to speak, listening respectfully while others give a brief update. After each student shares their story, the facilitator, Jacqui Grider, looks at them and, with empathy in her voice, says softly, “You have been heard.”
AEN Learning 1

This opening to the day is just one of the hallmarks of Applied Educational Neuroscience in the classroom. Grider is the director of the program, which is designed to help students manage emotions and cope, so that they may better succeed in their education.

These lessons and goals are not new. But with research that has been gathered over the past decades, we now know more about the developing brain, says Grider. And we know that helping students regulate these emotions can make it easier for them to be successful and learn.

Grider helps students identify the parts of the brain and which emotions correspond. She breaks them down into eight emotions; not a comprehensive list, but a number they can handle. And she helps them understand different methods of managing these emotions. It’s akin to what we know as the “fight or flight” syndrome – when put in stressful situations, even adults have difficulty knowing how to respond and are prone to simply “freak out,” terrified. By teaching children how to respond appropriately, or how to understand why they feel and respond as they do, they are then better able to process these reactions, clearing their heads in order to focus on learning.

And we now know that being proactive and teaching children in a positive way can lead to fewer disruptive behaviors down the road.

The lessons don’t end with children; they are equally suitable for adults. Just as an Apple Watch reminds its users to breathe every hour, Grider teaches adults to stop and take cleansing breaths periodically throughout the day. Taking these “brain breaks” can help us reset internally, allowing people to make better decisions in stressful situations.

Kids AEN

As part of the program, LSC secured a grant, along with Tippecanoe School Corp., that will fund Teen Cafés, giving high-school students a place to meet and talk with trained facilitators.

Grider takes these messages into classrooms; she also sends mini-lessons out to faculty and staff in the district.

Each of these steps, individually and collectively, helps students cope and deal with external stress in their lives. An act as simple as greeting students at the door each morning can aid in creating this safe learning environment. And once students know they are in a safe space, they are more likely to thrive. Grider coaches teachers on how to maintain this structure and routine.

Relationships. Brain breaks. Connections. All of these, says Grider, lead to a more positive environment, which will enhance learning. And we shouldn’t be afraid to make any changes that will benefit students.

“Student wellness equates to student success,” she says. “When we know better, we do better.”

For more about Applied Educational Neuroscience, visit the Applied Educational Neuroscience page.