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Oh, baby ... what a project!

April 28, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - It is a few minutes after midnight when she hears the baby cry. Startled, the eighth-grader rushes to figure out what is wrong. Is it hungry? Wet? Maybe just needs to be rocked?

Grabbing a bottle, the student settles into a chair and begins rocking, fighting the urge to drift off before the feeding is over.

Quarter after academic quarter, the scene is played out in homes across Fairmont, as eighth-graders in Wendi Tonder's Family and Consumer Science classes learn about caring for babies with computer sensor-sensitive dolls.

Article Photos

Students tend to their artificial babies at Fairmont Junior/Senior High School.

The Real Care Babies know their "parent" because he or she wears a special indicator the doll's sensor recognizes. The sensor allows the baby to record times of day it is handled, if it is appropriately comforted, whether the student actually changed its diaper, and if it was put to sleep on its back. A sensor in the bottle's nipple proves the student fed the baby, and for an appropriate amount of time. Students have two minutes to get to the baby, and two more minutes to figure out what it needs.

The babies also are programmed with fussy times, when nothing seems to work. Just like a real baby.

The doll is also capable of determining if a baby-sitter - AKA mom or dad - took care of the baby, as they are given a separate sensor.

"Students are exhausted after caring for them for the weekend," Tonder said. "Some write in their diaries they will wait [to have kids], and that is the whole point."

The dolls are light-years ahead of how students used to be taught how to care for a baby. Years ago, students carried around 10-pound sacks of flour. Then came dolls that cried and had keys in their backs to prove that students at least did something to soothe the baby. Now students have to figure out what the babies need.

And the babies are vocal about their needs.

"It cries a lot," said freshman Koral Hargan.

Sumer Gauger said the baby's breathing was the most surprising part of the experience, as it sounds a bit like Darth Vadar through the night.

Overall, the experience for the students was a tiring look into what caring for a baby could be like, although they are split on whether a real baby is easier than a Real Baby.

For Ashley Torres, live babies interact more, and are more fun to care for. Raisa Villa believes the doll is easier, because you know what it wants and it stops crying when it has gotten it, unlike experiences she has had with young children.

It was an eye-opener socially too, as students felt the reactions of others to young students appearing as parents. Torres found it embarrassing to carry the doll around in its car seat; she felt judged by adults she encountered who didn't know about the class project.

Tonder already is looking into the next generation of Real Care Babies. They have temperature sensors to make sure baby isn't too hot or cold. Also, the baby notes how many times its clothes are changed during the day. And it indicates how long the baby is left in the car seat.

Tonder is working to find grants to fund the newest dolls. She currently has 14 that are circulated throughout her classes. The dolls come with car seats and a diaper bag, and are available in different ethnicities.

The dolls can be set for three difficulty levels, although Tonder said she sets all of them to medium. If a student needs to work, she will turn the baby off via computer during those hours.

The different settings indicate how often during the night a baby wakes, how many fussy periods it has, etc.

"It makes you think twice," said Torres, who has experience with babies through her young nephew. "It is more responsibility than what you think."



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