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Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class

10-month-old Ethan (left) shows a toy to 9-month-old Evelyn.
September 26, 2017

As if on cue, 10-month-old Ethan barreled across the classroom after his mom, McDaniel volleyball coach Jess Wolverton, as fast as his hands and knees would take him — unaware that he had just vividly demonstrated Attachment Theory to  a classroom full of Developmental Psychology students.

Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class
Making noise is serious business for 9-month-old Evelyn.

It’s “Baby Day” in Psychology professor Stephanie Madsen’s class. In addition to the mostly Psychology, Education, Sports Coaching and Pre-Med majors taking the class, McDaniel faculty and staff moms are attending with their babies, age 2 to 10 months.

Although there’s no predicting exactly how babies will react to anything, Madsen is hoping they give her students a front-row seat on infant reflexes and perception as well as some of the developmental behaviors the class has studied. Most of the students haven’t had too much contact with babies so this class breathes life into their textbook.

“Some classes have guest speakers,” says Madsen. “These are my guest speakers — who actually can’t speak yet!

“It’s also neat for my students to see faculty and staff in a multi-dimensional way as parents.”

Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class
2-month-old Maren smiles when her mom Jessica Laird touches her cheek.

They see a wide span of behaviors and reflexes among the four babies. Director of advancement engagement Jessica Laird’s 2-month-old daughter Maren throws her arms out wide in a startle or moro reflex when laid down quickly on her back. Evelyn, 9-month-old daughter of ASL/Deaf Education program assistant Anna Collins, no longer has this infant reflex but she quickly searches for and finds a toy hidden under a blanket — a textbook example of object permanence that develops in babies between 4 and 7 months.

Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class
4-month-old Myles grins at him mom Barbara Swartz.

Speedy Ethan may have bolted after his mom, but 4-month-old Myles, son of Education professor Barbara Swartz, hasn’t quite perfected mobility yet. Still, when his mom says good-bye and walks across the room to the door, Myles watches her intently and seriously, breaking into a cheek-to-cheek grin when he spots her coming back across the room.

The moms answer questions about everything from breast-feeding to “must-have” baby equipment they regret buying to the importance of supportive if unofficial parent groups who are awake and willing to lend a car seat at 4:30 a.m.

Sophomore Elementary Education majors Courtney Herzog of Rockville, Md.; T.J. McGuire of Long Island, N.Y.; and Allie Titus of Frederick, Md., with sophomore Biochemistry major Megan Henderson of East Windsor, N.J., watch Ethan’s every move as he crawls over to them before sitting and dazzling them with his trademark grin.

“Seeing this makes all the experiments we’ve read about so real and true,” says Titus.

Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class
Sophomores (l-r) Courtney Herzog, T.J. McGuire and Megan Henderson watch Ethan take off across the room after his mom Jess Wolverton. On the right behind Ethan are Jessica Laird and daughter Maren.

Evelyn at 9 months is extremely sociable and is easy going like Ethan. She keeps an eye on where her mom is while crawling around the room stopping to smile at students and occasionally shows Ethan a toy. At one point she climbs right into Haley Chan’s lap.

“It’s so nice to see this in person,” says the sophomore Elementary Education major from Charlottesville, Va. “I learn so much better when I can actually experience it.”

Then there’s the fun factor — who can resist the charm of a baby?

“Part of this really is about having a little fun while connecting students with community members,” says Madsen. “They also discover that theories and research findings can be translated into real life.”

Babies steal the show in Developmental Psychology class
To sophomore Haley Chan’s delight, baby Evelyn climbed right up on her lap.

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