The corridors of Coláiste Iosagáin in Portarlington were ringing with the cries of ‘babies’ recently as students got a taste of parenthood.
Each of the school’s 48 transition year students had to personally care for a demanding electronic baby for two full days, coping with virtual dirty nappies and night feeds while continuing their schoolwork.
The ‘Baby Think It Over’ dolls are supplied by the HSE’s health promotion unit, to form part of the school’s childcare programme.
Lessons are also given in pregnancy and contraception, as well as the average cost of rearing a child, which comes as a shock to many.
TY co-ordinator Margaret Nolan says it is an “outstanding life lesson”, with some students loving the experience, and others begging her to take the baby back, as some babies are more difficult than others and all demand attention at random times.
“It is a very steep learning curve. Just like the real thing, it can be difficult to tell why the baby is crying. I prepare the students for what to expect, and they fill out a questionnaire before and afterwards. When I get the babies back, I collect the data which shows any ‘missed cares’, where the baby was left too long crying or need feeding, rocking or changing. There is a rough handling sensor, if they let the baby’s head drop a tiny bit, it screeches,” she said.
Boys are expected to care just as well as the girls.
“Some of the best readings I’ve got have been from boys, it is all down to personal care. It levels the playing field, they just have to get on and do it,” she said.
There is no option to hand the baby to a ‘grandparent’ for a break, as each student gets a matching disc they have to scan as they attend to the baby.
“Some find it a challenge, others dress their baby and give it a name,” Ms Nolan said.
Fifth year Nadine Thompson enjoyed her experience last year.
“I thought it was great. I found it a bit hard at night, as most people do, but I had a really good baby. It definitely gave me a taste of parenthood and I won’t be rushing into it,” she said.