To introduce students to the basics of human development and the critical role of parents in taking care of a newborn.
Children at this early grade level need to build upon their elementary knowledge of where babies come from and what babies need for healthy development both in the womb and as infants under parental care.
In this lesson, students are introduced to the basics of how a baby grows inside its mother until its birth. They then consider and discuss the birthing process. Then students are led into the third part of the lesson, which focuses on the early years of infancy. They are prompted to think about the kinds of basic needs infants have and the critical role adults play in ensuring a baby's healthy physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
One of the challenges of teaching this material at this level is to do it simply. It is important to emphasize that for a baby to grow and develop in a healthful way in the womb, it is important for mothers to eat well and maintain a healthy lifestyle. (Science for All Americans, pp. 73–76.)
For a more in-depth understanding of fetal development and healthy childcare, it is recommended that you read these resources:
- MEDLINEplus: Medical Encyclopedia: Fetal Development
- Babies Are Children Too: Caring for Infants and Toddlers
To best orient and grab your students' attention, begin the lesson by asking a number of very basic questions about babies and early childhood development. Encourage full classroom participation. Accept all responses and do not provide explanations. Allow the discussion to branch off into other related areas. The purpose of this warm-up activity is simply to draw out what students know about the subject matter.
- Where do babies come from? Where do babies grow?
- How long are mothers pregnant before they give birth?
- What happens when a baby is born?
- What do babies need to grow big and strong?
- What do babies need when they are first born?
- Are babies able to take care of themselves when they are first born? Why or why not?
- Who do babies depend on for growing up healthy? (Accept all answers, but ask students to support their views with explanations.)
Start by asking students if they have any younger brothers or sisters. For those who do, ask them if they can remember what it was like when their mother was pregnant with their younger sibling(s). Among the questions to ask and allow them to elaborate on include:
- What was it like during this time?
- What kinds of changes took place in your family?
- Did you have to do anything to help your parents or the baby?
Read to the class Baby on the Way by William Sears, M.D., et al. This is a simple, illustrated book designed to help inform children of all the changes a family undergoes as it awaits the arrival of a new baby.
Some of the story's highlights are: how a baby is growing inside the mother, who experiences increased hunger, thirst, and fatigue; how the father and children work together to make room for the new baby and help the mother; how children can feel a baby move inside the mother by feeling her belly; how, when the baby has finished growing and the mother has many contractions, it is time to go to the place where the baby will be born; how children can help their parents when the new baby comes home; and how and why babies nurse and the proper way children can hold their newborn sibling.
After reading, ask students comprehension questions like these:
- What happens to a mother when she is pregnant?
- What happens to a mother when the baby has finished growing inside her?
- Who helps a mother give birth?
- What might family members do to help prepare for a new baby?
- What do parents have to do to help take care of a new baby?
Optional Activity: Share with students a variety of photos of different women that will give students a better idea of how the body changes during different stages of pregnancy. One resource you could use is The Belly Gallery on the About.com site. If appropriate, you may want to emphasize the following: as a baby gets closer and closer to nine months of growth, he, she, or they will be ready to be born. Ask students comprehension questions like:
- What is different about the photo of the woman in early pregnancy and the one in late pregnancy?
- Why is the mommy's stomach in this picture (point to picture) bigger than in this picture?
- What special things do pregnant mothers have to do, as compared to women who are not carrying a baby?
- Can you imagine your stomach getting this big? Why or why not?
Healthy, Early Growth and Development
Read to students What Baby Needs by William Sears, M.D., et al, which serves as a nice follow-up to the previous book by resuming the story of the family once the newborn is home and in need of special care. (You may wish to remind students to imagine that they now have a little brother or sister at home.)
Among the issues or changes that this book highlights are: how older siblings become "big helpers" to their parents as they all adjust to the special needs of the newborn; how the baby needs to be held carefully, breast- or bottle-fed often, and get lots of love and support—just like they did as babies; how babies cry to express what they need, like a change of diapers or new bottle; how when babies grow up, they can play around and eat ice cream just like their older siblings; and how growing babies need to go to the doctor for checkups, be placed in special seats in the car, and more.
Again, after reading, ask students comprehension questions like these:
- So, what happens when a new baby is born? Can a baby take care of itself? Why or why not?
- What do the parents or family members have to do?
- What kinds of things does a newborn baby need?
- Why does a baby need (examples)?
- What would happen to a baby if it were not cared for? (Elicit examples.)
You should guide the discussion so these main ideas are emphasized and discussed:
- Babies need adults that they can learn to know and trust.
- Parents (and children) form a deep, affectionate bond with newborns.
- Babies need a lot of special attention, affection, and care.
- Babies tell us how they feel and what they need by crying (or making faces, babbling, etc.).
- Babies need to be breast- or bottle-fed a lot.
- Babies need to have their diapers changed when necessary.
- Babies need people to talk with them so they can learn to speak.
- Parents need to wash their hands and keep things clean when caring for a baby.
When students have a basic understanding of a newborn's special needs, ask them to draw a picture of a family scene—perhaps their own—that captures one of the above circumstances. Illustrations should include a baby, at least one parent or older family member, and themselves. When they are finished drawing one of the special circumstances, ask them to show it to the class and explain what is taking place (and why). Students may also be prompted to guess what is happening in the picture before it is explained.
Review with students what they have learned about early child development, from pregnancy to the first few years of life. This should include key questions they were asked at each point in the lesson. For greater interest and comprehension, other open-ended questions can be asked that will help them apply it to their own lives like:
- Do you know anyone who is pregnant or just had a baby?
- What does she or the father have to do to take care of the baby?
- How can the children of the family help the baby and parents?
- Can you share something you learned about babies or taking care of babies?
National Geographic's Baby Animal Pictures is a fun way to help students understand that all animals have offspring.
ZooBorns is a blog that announces animal births at accredited zoos and aquariums around the world. To date they have covered more than 200 species and more than 1,300 births.