Yes, budding babysitters are learning to change diapers.
But for the 12 to 18 year olds attending the KSB Babysitting Academy on Saturday, it was so much more.
Like participating in critical reflection exercises. One of the group projects involved scenarios the babysitters might encounter at work and then come up with creative, sensible solutions.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Jace McCallister, one of the cadets’ babysitters. “Some things are complicated at first, but then you get used to them.”
By the end of the six-hour session, 10 girls and two boys had completed the full course. Each received a certificate of completion: diplomas attesting to their training, allowing parents to rest easy knowing that their children are in good hands.
Born of pandemic containment
The KSB Babysitting Academy was started by Kelly Hildebrand, who is KSB’s Wellness Services Coordinator.
“We’ve needed a babysitter course at Dixon for a very long time,” Hildebrand said.
But it was the COVID-19 lockdowns – when some children found themselves having to watch younger siblings while parents were at work – that was the best reason to launch the program.
Hildebrand contacted Dixon Public Schools and the Lee County Health Department to see how they could help. Together they formed the curriculum that forms the basis of the class.
An intense but fun day of training
Cadets begin by meeting their “babies,” anatomically correct dolls that each is responsible for during class.
Then the babysitters start updating the babysitter checklist, including the child’s name, date of birth, allergies, schedule, and special instructions from the parents.
Then the cadets unplug their phones and tune into the children’s interests. Margo Empen, Superintendent of Dixon Public Schools, led the cadets through activities that encourage interaction with the child in their care.
Activities are designed to physically and mentally stimulate the child. There is a menu of indoor and outdoor games that can help sharpen fine motor skills. There are treasure hunts and matching games.
Empen has released a deck of cards featuring easy and fun yoga poses that babysitters and kids can do together.
The cadets were all smiles, and there were more than a few laughs, as Empen guided them through the poses.
A mini-course on behavior
Nuanced parents know that a certain degree of psychology is involved when dealing with young children.
So Stacie McCullough and Monica Wolfley of Preschool for All, an Illinois grants program, led the cadets through a mini-course.
Here, cadets have learned to be creative in cases where their charges engage in difficult behaviors, such as temper tantrums. Instead of giving ultimatums, guardians are encouraged to give children choices. This strategy allows the child to feel independent and more willing to cooperate.
Cadets learn to empathize with children, by “putting themselves on their level”. Similarly, people who are seated are taught never to handle unwanted behavior with physical punishment.
When seated for school-aged children, cadets learn to prioritize. This allows children to complete their homework (rather than having a babysitter do it for them).
Change and bathe
Diaper changing is an essential skill for any babysitter, and the academy has students covered. Lora Fassler, health education coordinator with the Lee County Health Department, guided the class as they practiced.
Cadets learn to use changing mats. They learn wiping techniques adapted to the gender of the child. And they get to know when it’s time for a diaper change. Additionally, instructors discuss how to support children who are currently potty training on a schedule and how to report the child’s progress to parents.
“I love teaching kids something new and seeing the looks on their faces,” Fassler said.
Cadets also learn how to prepare a baby’s bath, such as always checking the water temperature properly with their elbows before placing the child in it and filling the tub to a safe level. . More importantly, they learn to keep one hand on the child at all times while in the water.
The students were then able to put their skills to the test by washing their dolls under the watchful eye of their instructors.
Babysitters learn how to feed a toddler and measure portions of food that are safe for choking. By cutting the child’s food small enough to fit through a straw, caregivers and parents can be sure the child is safe with every bite.
Cadets also learned how to measure formula and properly check the temperature of the bottle. At all times, caretakers know to follow sanitary practices, such as washing their hands before handling food and never touching formula with their bare hands.
Hildebrand taught the class about lifesaving measures, covering CPR, basic first aid and what to do if the child is choking. The cadets practiced on a CPR training manikin, which gave them confidence in their new skills.
“Remember, no boo boo is too small,” Hildebrand said.
After completing the full six-hour course, cadets receive a certificate of completion. Graduates use these credentials to prove their education, allowing parents to rest easy knowing their children are in good hands.
“I think babysitters should come to the academy because it’s really fun and educational,” said caddie Carly Dallas. “They can learn a lot.”
How to register for the course
The KSB Childcare Academy is offered four times a year to children aged 12 to 18. It costs $20. Go to www.ksbhospital.com to register. Classes fill up quickly.