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Exercise provides Willmar, Minn., teens with a sense of the responsibilities involved in being a parent

WILLMAR — Like real babies, there were eggs first.

That’s what students were given to care for during last year’s child development class at Willmar Senior High School. While caring for a hen’s egg may not be the same as tending to the needs of a human infant, the exercise can be designed to give teens a sense of the responsibility involved.

This year, things went high-tech.

Students are taking turns looking after five “RealCare Babies,” life-size dolls that bear a strong resemblance to the real thing.

A casual observer passing one of the students carrying a doll might think it was a real baby.

But the resemblance goes deeper.

“There are computers in them,” said Christina Kurhajetz, the family and consumer science teacher who uses the dolls in her class.

Those computers make the artificial babies nearly as demanding as actual infants.

Thanks to their silicon brains, the dolls will fuss and coo in response to such activities as feeding, diaper changing and rocking so that the teens “can experience what it’s like to care for a real baby,” Kurhajetz said.

Students get their little bundles of digital joy for one night and two days during the week or over a weekend.

Either way, the teens get to live some of the challenges of rearing a newborn.

Feeding a baby seems simple enough … to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

And, just like an actual baby, when the robo kids get their bottle, they may want to be rocked or be burped midway through the process.

“They can cry at any time,” Kurhajetz said. “It might be at 3 o’clock in the morning or when they’re trying to take a shower.”

Students’ experiences vary greatly, Kurhajetz reported.

“Some said they hated it — it cried the whole time,” Kurhajetz said of students’ reaction to the assignment. “Others said, ‘it was easier than I thought it was going to be.’”

Gary Miller

Born and attended public schools in Willmar, Minn. Served 20 years in U.S. Navy as a photojournalist. Worked at West Central Tribune since retiring from the Navy in 1994.

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