Oh, Baby!

Fourth graders participate in a weekly Baby Watch program where they learn about childhood development and look back at their own growth.

On Thursday mornings, the Lower School library takes on the air of a daycare for Baby Watch, a long-standing program that allows students to learn about childhood development firsthand. Babies and toddlers are situated around the room, accompanied by their caregivers. Some are learning to sit, while others crawl at lightning speed or take shaky first steps. Blocks, rattles, and other toys litter the floor; students pick them up to get the babies’ attention and are often rewarded with a smile.

Lower School counselor Richard Griffith leads the program after taking over from longtime school nurse Barbara Conte, who retired in 2016. “I enjoy what it represents for students,” he says. “As teachers and educators, you talk a lot about building a bridge between students, teachers, and caregivers—and this is a program with a bridge built into it.”

Students interact with children as young as a few months to 2 years old. After each session, 4th graders head home with questions for their parents or guardians and delve into the stories of their own development.  

“Students learn how they got their names, the story of their birth or adoption, when they learned to walk,” Richard explains. “Then they come in and play with the children, talk to caregivers, and really have a conversation with the parents of the babies. Because it’s once a week, you get a focused and dramatic view of developmental progression, especially after the winter break—babies who maybe weren’t able to sit up or stand are suddenly doing those things.”

Richard adds, “What’s also cool to see is that for some students, if they’re only children or the youngest child, they may not have interacted with younger children very much. Some have never held a baby before. And we have some unique stories with the babies that can really engage the students.”

One example is the time a baby who was unusually shy seemed to change overnight. “It turned out that she needed tubes in her ears,” says Richard. “After that, she was lively and able to engage with the group in a different way. Her mom did an excellent job explaining the medical process—they could see the difference it had made for this child, and it was profound. She was mimicking words when she hadn’t been doing that before; maybe her shyness had been linked to not being able to hear well. Students saw that hearing better could greatly impact a baby’s temperament.”                                                                                                       

Ultimately, though, Richard says the biggest benefit that 4th graders get out of Baby Watch is a new way of empathizing with others. “You can do a workshop on empathy, and you can read books, but I think the purest form of empathy is caring for young children and watching their caregivers do the same,” he explains. “It requires a level of attentiveness and conscientiousness, of stepping outside yourself. There’s something about being able to connect to the emotional state of a small child that just speaks to empathy, that creates a special bond that students share with those children.”

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