Grandville — For one day, 6-year-old Caroline Clark was the center of attention at Grandville High School.
She played with a Mr. Potato Head toy and its many different facial features. She showed off her counting and math skills. She spent some time coloring and writing her name with crayons. She poured some water into a few different vases. She set up shop with some dolls in front of an elaborate playhouse.
All the while, GHS students followed her around: asking her questions, watching her every move and jotting down notes. Someone even took photos.
“It made me a little nervous, but happy,” Caroline said of all the attention. “I was happy because I was with my sister.”
Caroline’s sister, junior Kaylee Gardner, brought her to school for Child Day, a hands-on workshop that’s part of teacher Kristin Bridges’ child psychology class. At Child Day, the high school students get to observe children between ages 3-8 demonstrating various child development concepts that have been taught throughout the semester.
“I think it’s beneficial to actually interact with some children and see firsthand what we’ve been talking about,” said Bridges. “Like, in terms of small motor skills—today we can see what a 3-year-old’s small motor skills look like, and then see what a 6-year-old’s small motor skills look like. You can actually watch them color and you can see what they are capable of.”
Bridges’ child psychology class teaches how children develop physically, socially, emotionally, intellectually and morally, from before birth up to age 12. It covers practical concepts like how to care for babies; logical concepts of what children understand and at what age; and theoretical concepts like Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which suggests that children move through four different stages of learning.
“It’s a good class if you want to go into working with children in any way, if you want to be a parent someday or if you just want to learn about how you became who you are,” Bridges said.
For Child Day, Bridges set up several stations throughout the room for the visiting kids and their student observers. Each station offered the kids an opportunity to play, do an activity or answer some questions—all to demonstrate a developmental concept or theory.
‘It’s a good class if you want to go into working with children in any way, if you want to be a parent someday or if you just want to learn about how you became who you are.’– teacher Kristin Bridges
At the playhouse, for example, the high-schoolers got to watch the children interact with others and see what types of pretend play they came up with. The Mr. Potato Head and coloring stations offered a chance to observe fine motor skills. At the moral development station, high-schoolers read a story and then asked some questions to see how the child determined right from wrong. Two different stations tested the child’s understanding of conservation, shapes and volume by using water and blocks.
A Different Perspective
Even though Caroline is her sister, Kaylee said she learned a lot from observing Caroline’s responses to the various prompts.
“She really surprised me with a lot of them, so that was really interesting,” Kaylee said. “Like, one of the stations was to test to see if she could put herself in other people’s shoes. Usually that happens around the age of 7, and she’s still 6, but she was able to do it.
“And at the math station, I was really impressed at how well she could do her addition and subtraction and counting by fives. I didn’t know that she was that good.”
Having a younger sister was actually a big reason Kaylee wanted to take the child psychology class, she said. She enjoys learning about children and wants to work in the psychology field when she gets older.
“(Child Day) was a really good, more personal, experience to understand what we’ve been learning about,” Kaylee said. “It’s one thing to read about it and look at presentations all day, and it’s another thing to see it hands-on with actual children. I think it’s easier to see it with kids here, especially ones that you’re close to.”
Child Day also gave Kaylee the opportunity to hang out with her sister and give her a taste of high-school life. All child psychology students who brought a sibling or other child to class were responsible for their care while at the high school, which for many was a whole extra learning experience.
“It’s fun to see how she experiences what I have going on every day at school,” Kaylee said. “I could tell she was a little anxious at first, but she got used to it. I know she’s always wanted to experience what I go through in high school, so that was nice. It helps you put things into a different perspective, and it’s been a very fun experience.”