Babies bring textbooks to life

February 23, 2009

As the energetic 6-month-old Liam scampered about Room 109 in Academic Hall and the more reserved Kristina, also 6 months old, lingered among the toys scattered about the floor, the students in Professor Stephanie Madsen’s Child and Adolescent Development class acquired a new meaning to the concept of “hands-on learning experiences.”

For the nearly two dozen students in Madsen’s class, words and phrases pulled from their textbooks such as “early friendships,” “emotions/social referencing,” and “motor skills” – and scribbled on the chalkboard before a recent session – sprang to life in a fascinating, meaningful and tangible way.

Sarah Miller ’12, a Psychology major who aspires to become a guidance counselor, said she was most struck by how, without any prompting, the parents reiterated much of what her class has learned from their readings and classroom discussions.

“But it’s one thing to read about something, and another thing to see it,” Miller added.

Students peppered the parents, whose children ranged in ages from 4 months to 2 years, with questions such as, “How many things do your children instinctively know are dangerous, and how many things do you have to tell them are dangerous?,” “Do you value your personal time more now than before you had children?,” and “How soon did they start talking?” (The answers: “You have to tell them everything that is dangerous,” “Yes and no. We traveled a lot before we had children and now enjoy spending all our time caring for our children,” and “It varies.”)

Madsen’s four-credit course, Child and Adolescent Development, is offered through the Psychology Department and explores developmental changes from the prenatal period through adolescence, with an emphasis on how physical, cognitive and social-emotional development interact.

The Psychology Department’s program offers instruction in a diverse network of studies, including the psychology of learning, behavioral neuroscience, clinical and counseling psychology, social psychology, cognition, and developmental psychology.

In addition to majoring in Psychology, students can pursue a minor in Psychology and a dual major in Psychology-Sociology.

More students last year chose to major in Psychology than any other discipline, according to the college’s registrar office. The top five majors were rounded out with Communication, Business Administration/Economics, Political Science and Environmental Policy and Science.

Psychology continues to be popular with a current count of more than 200 students choosing the discipline as a major, including 48 seniors, 58 juniors, 50 sophomores and 44 freshmen.

Recent graduates have gone on to earn advanced degrees at universities across the country, while others have pursued careers in human resources, nursing, law, research, education and human services.

Madsen, who specializes in child and adolescent development as well as interpersonal relationships, said this was the second time she has arranged to have parents visit the class with infants and toddlers so that her students could pick their brains and observe the children in action.

“I want to bring those concepts in the textbook to life,” Madsen said. “I want them to learn what is it like to live with an infant.”

(back row, left to right): Katie Frechette, Rachel Hansell, Jeremy Allen, (in front): Elle (age 2), Joelle Wilson, Mick O'Dwyer

(starting with standing adult and going around circle): Mick O'Dwyer, (seated, in front of Mick is Elle, age 2), Joelle Wilson (holding Harrison, 4 months), Liam (6 mo), Kristina (6 mo), Vicki Keriazes, Kasia Merrill, Adrian Pettaway, Rafael Seyum, Camara Kadete, Larry Thomas, Meagan Elfert

Kristina (6 months), Vicki Keriazes, Stephanie Madsen, Sarah Miller, Kasia Merrill, Adrian Pettaway, Rafael Seyum, Camara Kadete, Larry Thomas, Caroline Wilkes