Babies! A Project Is Born
By Carolee Fucigna, Head Teacher
Rachel B.: Mommy had Nicole in her tummy. I couldn’t sit on her lap. She was in the hospital. I had to sit on Daddy’s lap. Mom was not there in the night.
Chloe: Does Jordan mind if the baby cries?
Jordan: Not at night, but in the day I check on him.
William: Babies come from cradles. The mom picks them up and puts them there.
Antonio: I’m going to have a baby boy.
By the end of fall quarter it became clear that Center AM was going to have an unusually high number of births (eight) during our school year, including Teacher Rinna’s. Children’s natural curiosity was stimulated, and questions emerged in small-group discussions at snack, during work with materials, or when reading books about babies. What do babies eat? Does Rinna’s baby do the hokey pokey when she does the dance during music? Do babies come from the hospital or “from bodies,” as one child stated? These kinds of questions guided the spring project on babies.
The initial discussions helped uncover children’s present ideas about what babies can and cannot do. “They go poopie in their diapers.” “They hold on to their mommies.” “They can’t reach up high.” “Sometimes they let something fall that they had.” The children’s conversations revealed the importance for them of clearly differentiating the category of “baby” from their older selves. Capital-izing on the interest in what babies can’t do, Teacher Betsy Koning helped the children record their ideas about what babies can do and what children can do. She compiled these ideas into a book. It is interesting to note that, for all the discussions about what babies cannot do, when looking at their own baby pictures and the baby pictures of others, they relayed fond stories such as, “I said ‘Dada.’ That means daddy for babies.” “Vanessa goes in the stroller…but so do I!” “When I was a baby, I was little and cute.”
Various activities gave children hands-on, concrete ways to explore babies. Teacher Pam Crisostomo used unifix cubes to explore, record, and contrast the different lengths of the babies born in our class. Parent experts came in with real babies to observe: Nandini Bhattacharjya, a teacher from Center PM, with Anika, Hayley Gans with Aidan, and Helen Werdegar with Zakary. Interested children were able to hold a real baby in their arms, watch while a baby had his or her diaper and outfit changed, stroll a baby in the yard, and see how babies practice keeping their heads up. The parents answered questions such as “Why do babies cry?” “Is that [baby sling] heavy to hold?” “How do babies hold on so they don’t fall when mommies carry them?” “Why is he losing his hair?” Zakary obliged us by sleeping through a session in which the children studied his tiny toes and fingers and then translated their observations into drawings.
Seamus Robinson, Myles’s new brother, gurgled through his bath in one of the small rooms adjoining the classroom. His mother, Joanna, showed how she shampoos his hair, washes and dries him, and massages him. The children covered Seamus with a washcloth “because that keeps him nice and warm.” Jordan noted that he thinks his baby brother likes baths because “he rarely cries.” Seeing the large sponge that Seamus lies on in his tub, Julia observed, “I know why he needs this…because he can’t float on his back!” Once Seamus was dressed and nursing, the children used his tub to wash and shampoo their own dolls, not just “playing” but further reflecting on what they had just seen.
The Center AM children proved curious, too, about what babies can eat. “They eat milk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” “Only potatoes…mashed-up potatoes.” “They drink milk from their moms when they can’t drink from a bottle.” “Do babies eat lots of food? How does the baby drink all the food?” The children taste-tested samples of baby food to discover the most popular one. For some, the invitation to put “mushy food” in their mouths seemed to challenge their sense of who they had become: “I don’t eat baby food. I’m NOT a baby anymore.”
Eventually, we made our own applesauce and tested it against commercial baby applesauce. Visiting with his mother, Tina, John Semba had a midmorning snack of both kinds and seemed to find both delicious. John also gave a lesson in communication by turning his head away and sealing his lips when he had had enough. While watching John eat, one child posed a pressing preschool question: “How does John eat his birthday cake?” Tina answered, “I break it into tiny pieces or give him a little icing.”
The baby project reached into other areas as well. Much of what the children learned was played out in our yard and in our dramatic play area with relevant props. Team member Jeremy Smart stretched his new guitar skills by writing original baby songs for us to sing. Parents Amy Oro and Carol Somersille shared information about their jobs as a pediatrician and an obstetrician. In the culminating event of the project, small groups of children took the “sibling tour” of the maternity area at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to research what happens in the hospital when a baby is born.
The entire baby project gave the children a chance to explore questions of importance to them. They brought their parents and teachers along on a rich journey of discovery.