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Toddlers Teach Human Development

The Steward School in Henrico County is turning the student-teacher dynamic upside-down, placing babies at the head of the class. Health teacher Meredith McGuire recruited Dr. Charles Terry, a local pediatrician and Steward School board member, along with a group of babies and toddlers to lead lessons on human development. McGuire, a pediatric nurse practitioner, wanted her health classes to get a closer look at some of the content covered in class. “The program is designed as something to allow students to observe, first-hand, human growth and development,” McGuire said.

The eighth grade classes watched a movie and learned about brain development and behavioral milestones from the age of three months to three years. When the tots and Dr. Terry came to visit, the students were able to see these linguistic, social and emotional milestones for themselves. McGuire, laughing, said one of her students mentioned he wanted to see the toddlers again because he is excited to find out what growth and changes will occur in the next three months.

Real life experience with toddlers. Better than a textbook.Steward’s boys met the tots and their parents back in November as Dr. Terry answered questions about growth and development. The students were able to observe what the babies could and could not do. For example, a toddler drawing on a dry-erase board was an opportunity to talk about handedness, relating back to the Steward students’ study of the brain. In January, the eighth-grade girls at the school were given the same opportunity, and McGuire said another one of her classes will meet the babies in February.

Eighth-grader Molly Herring said she was amazed when baby Charlotte squeezed her hand, as Dr. Terry said the baby would. “In health class, we’ve been learning about motor skills and how every single interaction with babies shapes their brains,” Herring said. “It’s so cool to see them developing while we’re here.”  

Dr. Terry said programs like this bring learning alive for students. “It is so much easier to learn development by interacting with children of different ages than by trying to memorize a table of developmental milestones,” Dr. Terry said.

Steward School states their aim is to bring visitors like Dr. Terry to campus to enrich the experience of the student body and the Richmond community. McGuire said these events not only build community by bringing parents, faculty, community members and students into one room to talk about the early stages of human development, but they are also an incredible opportunity for these students to observe these stages.

“Even in medical school, you just don’t get this kind of opportunity,” McGuire said. “You can’t learn this in a textbook.”  Both the boys and girls of Steward School will get the chance to check back in with the babies in March and April.

Article by Lauren N. Colie, Print/Online Journalism and English major at Virginia Commonwealth University. Lauren is Editor-in-Chief of Auctus, VCU’s Undergraduate Research Journal, as well as a Lead Teaching Assistant for a research-writing course. She recently joined the Science Matters team as a special student correspondent.

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