High School Child Development Courses Provide a Valuable Apprenticeships: Parenting Instruction, a Responsibility That Had Previously Rested in the Home, Has Become Part of Educational Curricula

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THE CURRENT MEDIA ARE LADEN WITH REPORTS OF THE MANY SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS FACING TODAY'S YOUTH. In fact, parenting has become a national topic of discussion. Today's parents are inundated with advice on how to address, intervene and prevent various problems and how to intervene effectively, if necessary. Professionals in numerous fields--including psychology, medicine and religion have proposed tips and strategies. Various human service agencies and educational institutions offer workshops and seminars on parenting topics. Parenting instruction, a responsibility that had previously rested in the home, has become part of educational curricula.

Courses in child development are offered for high school students in Pennsylvania as well as in other states. Child development programs consist of educational courses that provide students with the knowledge of the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of children. These programs are intended to enhance knowledge in child development, change behavior when interacting with children, and influence attitudes toward child rearing.

The author visits high school programs across the state of Pennsylvania to supervise student teachers in family and consumer sciences. She has observed much diversity in the way child development programs are structured. She surveyed 90 Pennsylvania junior and senior high school child development teachers in 2000 and 2001. Of the 86 teachers who reported that child development classes were offered, 72 percent indicated that the course was delivered using a combination of didactic instruction and supervised interaction with preschool children in a child development laboratory. Seventy-four percent of these laboratory experiences take place in the secondary classroom. The high school students study, design and implement age-appropriate learning activities to explore and understand the development of preschool children.

Learning in the Lab

A child development laboratory provides direct experience with young children. Most programs are part-day and children are recruited from the community to participate. Teachers have taken courses in early childhood care and development asa part of their certification requirements. They are skilled in the use of developmentally appropriate practices and positive guidance in the preschool setting.

While there is some variation across school districts, the secondary students typically receives instruction in these concepts, as well as in basic child development theory and age/stage characteristics prior to participating in the lab. During their lab participation, the students have experiences that frequently include observing, interacting with and guiding the children as well as planning activities, preparing the classroom and evaluating the day. The Pennsylvania Department of Education Child Development Laboratory Procedures Guidelines states that the mission of a child development laboratory is to provide high school students with the opportunity to observe and interact with preschool children in a model setting that utilizes exemplary practices. Laboratory experiences offer high school students opportunities from which they can learn and discuss real-life concepts related to child development. They work under the direction and guidance of the classroom teacher who models positive interactions with the preschool children. High school students learn in a manner similar to an apprenticeship where they become skilled at positive behaviors and also in the language of the skill. Furthermore, high school students become aware of what the teacher thinks about a task or activity, providing the opportunity for students to experience a cognitive apprenticeship. The teacher works with students individually or in small groups to plan activities, schedules and nutritious snacks for the preschoolers. After the preschoolers leave, the teacher and students discuss and reflect to determine what changes need to be made for the next session. …