This is part 5 of my weekly series on “Group Process in Childbirth Education: Building and Supporting a Community of Learners.”
Giving “permission” for connections
Talk about the benefits of connecting to other parents. Talk in the first class about peer support, and what a fabulous resource new parents can be for each other, offering both practical advice, and support (i.e. helping you realize that you’re not the only one who’s having a hard time adjusting.) I say something like: “one of the best things for new parents is to talk to other parents, get support, get advice, share frustrations, etc. We’re going to start practicing that here today, and start talking to other people who are in your same life situation… It’s easy to think that because I’m teaching the class, I’m the expert in the room, but I guarantee that you all have things to teach each other and to learn from each other as well.” I then go on to give examples of how having connections to other parents will help you throughout your child’s life (get tips on potty training your 3 year old; talk to other parents about starting kindergarten, get recommendations for driver’s ed classes, get support from other parents are adjusting to having their child go away for college.)
Encourage connection. Assume your students want to meet and talk with other parents, but may need guidance for when and how to do that. Just before each break, encourage them to connect over break. Give them a couple questions to ask each other or discussion topics. I say something like ““go ahead and run to the bathroom, or get some water, then come back and chat with your classmates. Maybe you can get some good ideas for baby names, or where to shop for baby bathtubs, or share some positive birth stories you’ve heard.”
Or put out displays around the room which encourage them to wander around and chat informally with each other. Try “lift-the-flap” cards. First, think up trivia questions. Write the answers on a 4×6 index card. Then cover the answer up with a 3×5 post-it note. Write the question on the post-it note. Students ask themselves the question, then lift the flap to check their own answers. Works great for nutrition, pop quiz review of labor, baby development trivia, etc.
Breaks: Allow plenty of time at break for them to make these connections! (Note: breaks also allow the introverts to slip out of the room for a little while and get a breather.)
Snacks: People naturally connect over food. If you have snacks in your class, you will have a better group dynamic. The whole class will go better. Consider providing a simple, inexpensive snack in week one and asking parents to volunteer to bring snacks to all the other classes.
Encourage on-going connections
Connection outside of class: Suggest students get together. Consider setting up a Facebook group for them to use to connect. Hand out copies of a class roster with student contact information. (In week one, tell them you’ll be doing this, and pass around a roster, so they can make any changes, or mark out any info they do not want to appear on the roster you distribute.)
Encourage them to meet for dinner nearby before class, or go out for lunch after a class.
One of our instructors would ask students at the beginning of each class: “where did you guys get together this week” – her tone assumed that of course they had done so. The first week or two they would hem and haw, but then after that they started answering!
Reunion: Plan a reunion after all the babies are born. It’s a great opportunity for them to re-connect. Have them all email each other (or post on Facebook) when their babies are born as a lead-up to reunion. At reunion, hand out roster again. Encourage them to meet again.