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Kids learning to care for kids

Farmington students did not have school Monday, but 14 of them chose to be in a classroom anyway. They were learning, to be sure, but not any of the regular school day lessons.

These students, ages 11-15, were learning real life lessons. Things like how to hold a baby and change diapers. How to dress and undress a toddler. How to assess a potential emergency situation.

Essentially, how to be a prepared babysitter.

Several times a year, School District 192 Community Education offers the American Red Cross babysitter's training program, helping many youth to prepare for their first job.

Instructors Barb Pierce and Colm Griffin are certified to teach the 6 1/2 hour Red Cross course. With the aid of dolls, CPR mannequins and a training manual, they take the students through various aspects of babysitting.

But on Monday, the students were learning perhaps some of the most important pieces of information -- what to do in an emergency.

It is not all just sitting down and reading through a booklet and watching a couple of videos. Students are challenged to put themselves in hypothetical situations, both as the child and as the responsible babysitter.

With help from Pierce, the students took turns handling dolls as if they were newborns. During the section on first aid, the kids reviewed things like how to tell if an infant is stressed or choking. Following Pierce's lead, they turned the doll face down and tapped on the back, then face up, to tap on the chest, learning how to dislodge something.

The students do more of these types of activities throughout the day. They talk about things like how to get a child to settle down and go to bed at night. They talk about feeding kids, they learn about personality traits and differences between infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school age children.

The goal, Pierce said, is to get the students comfortable enough to take on the responsibility of caring for younger kids for a short period of time.

And though there are some giggles while one student pretends to be choking and his or her partner encircles the victim's waist to do a mock Heimlich maneuver, Pierce said the kids really do come away with knowledge they did not have before the class.

"I was really amazed, especially with how much they pick up during (the life saving) portion," she said, watching as the kids took turns breathing air into the CPR mannequins.

Due to its popularity, and the fact there are so many aspects that cannot be addressed in the 6 1/2 hour course, Pierce would like to offer an advanced babysitting course in the future -- providing there are instructors available when the time comes.

"There's a lot more information in the book that we just can't get to," Pierce said.

At the end of the day, the students receive a certificate stating they have completed the course. Not a bad day's work, especially on a day off from school. But those seem to work best, Pierce said, because students are used to being in class anyway.

The training program is offered several times each school year. This week's class was the second so far, with additional classes scheduled in January and April. For more information, visit the Community Education web site, www.farmington.k12.mn.us/communityed/index.html, or call 651-460-3200.