Dawn Johnson, Kelly Monson, and Terri Johnson
Kids World Daycare and Preschool
November 2021–May 2022
The Baby Project took place in Ms. Johnson’s class at Kids World Daycare and Preschool in Centerville, Iowa. Kids World is an early care and education center that serves children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Twenty 4-year-old preschoolers attended Ms. Johnson’s class all day. The preschool classroom is part of Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program and a community partner of the Centerville Community School District. The Baby Project began in November 2021 and concluded in May 2022.
Phase 1: Beginning the Project
The Baby Project began when the children’s interest in the topic was sparked by Mrs. Monson’s announcement that she was expecting a baby. The children were so excited and had many questions. The children wanted to know if the baby was a boy or a girl. Other questions included: Will you have the baby at preschool? Will the doctor cut your tummy open? Can the baby hear us? Following the announcement, we noticed an increase in activity in the dramatic play center. The children loved playing with the baby dolls. We enjoyed watching the children demonstrate what they knew about babies through play (see Figure 1). They knew that babies wore diapers that needed to be changed. They also understood that babies eat from bottles. The children were also very careful holding their dolls and handled them carefully. We thought a project on babies will be an incredible opportunity for the children to explore their interest in the topic!
Mrs. Monson explained to the children that her baby was the size of a lime. She also showed the children her first ultrasound pictures. We began by making a topic web with the children to illustrate their current knowledge of babies. The web illustrated that they had a basic understanding of babies. We also sat down as a preschool team and made our anticipatory web (see Figure 13 at end of project). We were curious to see what direction the project would take.
One of my teaching associates and I met to make an anticipatory web. We worked together to anticipate the direction the Baby Project might take. We also connected our ideas to the Iowa Early Learning Standards. This process enabled us to assess the topic’s potential to provide the children with learning experiences to build the children’s skills and understandings.
The children had a lot of questions about babies. We recorded their questions on chart paper and displayed them in the classroom. This enabled us to refer to them often and add questions as they popped up.
- Why do babies drink milk?
- Why do babies roll over and crawl?
- Why do babies use binkies?
- How do babies play?
- Why do babies sit in car seats?
- Why do babies poop in their diapers?
- Why do babies cry?
- Why do babies sleep in cribs?
- How do babies learn how to talk?
- Why do babies take baths?
- Why do babies drink from bottles?
- Why do some babies get their ears pierced?
- Why do bigger babies use sippy cups?
- Why do babies like rattles?
- Why do some babies have brown eyes?
- Do all babies sleep in cribs?
Phase 2: Developing the Project
The children’s questions really drove the investigations of the Baby Project. We were determined to provide the children with experiences and activities that would enable them to discover the answers to those questions on their own.
We are fortunate to have a nursery at our center. Infants ages 2 months to 18 months old attended the nursery during the Baby Project investigation. It enabled us to have a built-in field site complete with guest experts. The children made visits to the nursery in small groups (see Figure 2). The children made observational drawings of the various pieces of furniture (high chairs, cribs, etc.). They also used iPads to take photographs.
In addition, children who had questions asked them of the nursery caregivers. The children’s questions were recorded on index cards with small drawings to help them remember their questions. Each group would report their findings to and share their observational drawings and photos with the others during our project discussions at circle time. It was a fantastic way for the children to learn from each other.
Before visiting the nursery, the children discussed what items they thought they might see there. I recorded their thoughts on chart paper. One of the children then drew each of the items. I created a three-column chart while the child drew an eye and wrote “Yes” and “No” for the headers. The children could make marks to indicate “Yes” if they saw the item or “No” if they didn’t (see Figure 3). We discussed the results when each group returned from the nursery.
The children were given a STEM challenge to create a baby rattle out of recyclables. The rattle had to have a handle, make noise, and contain material that would make a noise (see Figure 4). The children were so engaged! They noted how they could produce different sounds depending on the material placed inside their rattles. The children also drew baby bottles and made other drawings during their visits to the nursery (see Figure 4). The cribs and high chairs were the most drawn items from the nursery.
During lunch, one of the children said, “This applesauce is like baby food.” This prompted a discussion on how baby food was similar to and different from the food we eat at preschool. The children also talked about how they did not remember eating baby food. They were curious about how it tasted. Therefore, we had a baby food taste test (see Figure 5). The children and teachers tasted sweet potatoes, chicken with chicken broth, and banana blackberry blueberry. The children completed a chart to indicate whether they liked the taste of each kind of baby food.
All the children liked the banana blackberry blueberry. Most liked the chicken while most did not like the sweet potatoes. The children decided that they were happy they no longer ate baby food! Mrs. Monson also participated in the baby food taste test. We thought it was important for her to model how to participate in the investigation. In addition, the experience enabled the children to explore the project topic using their senses.
In November, Kids World hosted a legislative visit. There were many visitors to the classroom, and the children shared their learning on the Baby Project. Several of the children asked survey questions of their classmates, teachers, and the legislators. Former state Rep. Holly Brink and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks looked at the documentation from the Baby Project that was displayed in the hallway. The representatives were impressed with what the children had learned. They were particularly interested in the questions formulated by the children. Rep. Miller-Meeks, a physician, said she was happy to see the young children exploring a science topic in preschool.
During November, Mrs. Monson also began talking with the children about how she and her husband were considering names for their baby. We read the book Alma and How She Got Her Name at circle time. After reading the book, we invited families to share how they chose the names for their children. We discovered that many of the children were named after family members, some were named after television show characters, and some names were favorites of the parents. However, we learned that each name is special just like each child.
The children began asking more questions about the baby growing inside Mrs. Monson as they watched her stomach grow. Those questions were:
- Do babies have blood in their bodies?
- Can the baby in Mrs. Monson’s tummy feel tickles?
- Does her baby sleep?
- Does her baby cry in her tummy?
- How does the doctor see her baby?
- How does the baby eat in her tummy?
- Does the baby drink in her tummy?
- Why do we swaddle babies?
We decided to invite Nichole Jones to our classroom as a guest expert. Nichole is a labor and delivery nurse and was enrolled in classes to become a midwife. We emailed the questions to Nichole before her visit so she could prepare answers.
Nichole was an incredible guest expert. She answered all the children’s questions in a developmentally appropriate way. In addition, she brought several artifacts for the children to look at as well as some for us to keep in our classroom (see Figure 6). The children were amazed to learn why they have belly buttons!
During Nichole’s visit, one of the children asked, “Why do we swaddle babies?” She explained that swaddling makes a baby feel as if he is back inside the womb or as if he is being snuggled close. It has been shown to help many babies sleep better. The children’s interest in swaddling prompted us to watch a video showing how to swaddle a baby. Some of the children chose to practice the process at center time (see Figure 7). The activity was so popular that the children lined up and cheered each other’s efforts!
In January, Mrs. Monson announced to the class that she and her husband were going to find out the gender of their baby. The children predicted whether they thought the baby would be a boy or a girl. We then held a baby gender reveal party at preschool. We had cupcakes made for the special event. During snack time, the children took bites of their cupcakes to reveal pink filling. The baby was a girl!
The children also had questions about babies and car seat safety. We arranged to have Officer Gray visit as a guest expert. He answered the children’s questions and demonstrated how to properly place a baby in a car seat.
The children really enjoyed conducting surveys throughout the project (see Figure 8). They would ask anyone who entered the classroom a survey question, including Santa! During the class Christmas party, one of the children asked Santa, “Do you like baby food?” He responded, “I like some of it, but I love all babies.”
We felt it was important for the children to be able to observe a real baby. We arranged to have a baby from the center’s nursery visit the preschool classroom (see Figure 9). The children instantly fell in love with the baby! They commented on the cooing sounds she made, her clothes, and her small size. One child commented on how soft her skin was.
We referred to the children’s questions and discovered that they had been answered! Therefore, it was time to enter Phase 3!
Phase 3: Concluding the Project
As the project began to wind down, we discussed how the children wanted to celebrate and share their learning. The children stated that they wanted to have a party. They learned that a party to celebrate a baby is called a “baby shower.” The children also wanted to share how to swaddle a baby with their guests.
The children worked in three teams planning the shower: decorating, invitation, and refreshment. The children planned every aspect of the shower.
The decorating team made a banner that read “Welcome, Baby.” They also chose pink, purple, and red as the shower colors. They chose to have tablecloths and balloons on the tables as decorations. The refreshment team chose fruit salad and pink cupcakes for their menu. They chose to serve strawberry milk and water as well.
The invitation team chose pink and purple paper for the invitations. They designed the invitations to say “You are invited” followed by the details of the shower. They signed each invitation with the word “Love,” and they chose to invite Mrs. Monson’s mom, stepmom, and her husband’s grandmother (see Figure 10).
In addition to the baby shower, the children wanted to share documentation from the Baby Project and to demonstrate how to swaddle a baby.
The children eagerly prepared for the baby shower (see Figure 11). The children made a banner and invitations. They did everything from setting the tables, arranging the decorations, preparing the food, etc.
Mrs. Monson shared the documentation from the Baby Project with the baby shower guests (see Figure 12). They were so impressed with the children and their thinking!
The baby shower was a complete success! It enabled the children to share what they had learned. It also showed them how capable they truly were! In addition, the children were able to share their excitement for the arrival of Mrs. Monson’s baby.
The children’s final web clearly illustrates how much they learned during the course of the Baby Project (see Figure 13).
The Baby Project was one of the most meaningful projects in which I (Dawn Johnson) have had the pleasure of participating. I think it is because the topic was so important to the children. Mrs. Monson is a big part of the children’s lives. They loved being able to learn about babies—and her baby—throughout the project. I appreciated her willingness to share her experience with the children.
I don’t think I would have changed anything about the project. It was completely led by the children and their questions. Our preschool teaching team met weekly to reflect on the children’s questions. We wanted to be certain that each question was answered. In addition, we were able to meet so many Iowa Early Learning Standards throughout the course of the project. The Baby Project is a terrific example of authentic learning. The most difficult part for the children was waiting for the baby to be born!
Baby Juniper was born at 8:37 p.m. on May 21. She weighed 8 pounds 7 ounces and was 21 inches long (see Figure 14). She was the perfect ending to the Baby Project!