For most high schoolers in the United States, learning parenting skills at school consists of taking care of a bag of flour or trying not to drop an egg. Little time is devoted to how children grow, how they learn, and how adult caregivers play an important role in preparing them for academic and social-emotional demands down the road. And yet, 23 states have at least one standard about parenting or child development, suggesting that schools do have a vested interest in adding these concepts to the health curriculum.
Researcher Nell O’Donnell Weber of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in collaboration with Professor Meredith Rowe, saw an opportunity to provide this richer knowledge to high school students long before they become parents. As part of her doctoral research, Weber conducted an online survey of 1,044 American high schoolers across the country to learn what they knew about parenting and child development. She found that, overall, high school students believed that caregivers should and do play an active role in a child’s early learning. However, students often struggled to define exactly what that role was or how to best support early learning. Weber noted that the data gathered from the survey suggested that high schoolers answered questions about child development correctly 50% of the time — the same as if they were answering them by chance.
Rowe and Weber are using these findings to inform the creation of a curriculum on child development, with support from the United Way of Northern New Jersey and informed by United Way's Born Learning initiative.