‘Baby University’ Offers Life Skills, Community to New Parents in Need

Kathryn Carley | Public News Service
Cambridge parent and Baby University graduate Shirley Elliott learned about her daughter Asira's emotional, physical and cognitive-linguistic growth in the course, setting her up for success in school and later in life. Photo Credit: Shirley Elliott

Parenting was challenging even before the COVID pandemic, but a unique program in Cambridge teaches new parents the skills they need to nurture their children and themselves.

It’s called Baby University and includes 14 once-weekly parent-child playgroups and workshops, that cover everything from a child’s brain development to parent relaxation techniques.

Shirley Elliott is a recent graduate. She said she initially joined the program to help build a community for herself and her three-year-old daughter.

“It’s about understanding that you’re not on this journey alone,” said Elliott, “and if you reach out, others can come to you, because we really are going through the same thing.”

Baby University is part of the City of Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs. Parents also receive in-home visits by ‘Baby U’ staff and learn to grow support networks, as well as new friendships.

While priority is given to low-income families, all new parents in Cambridge are welcome to join. More than 460 have graduated, so far.

Baby U was inspired by the successful Harlem Children’s Zone, which takes a block-by-block approach to reducing the cycle of poverty through early childhood and family services.

At Baby U, fathers especially are encouraged to take an active role in their child’s development. Baby U graduate Tyrone Fells said he appreciated the chance to talk to other Dads, especially about the separation anxiety he experienced with his infant daughter.

“Baby U does teach that and shows us the just importance of establishing your role as a father,” said Fells, “and you know, being there and seeing you, and playing and interacting with you.”

For other parents, Baby U may help break a cycle of trauma and teach them how to safely discipline their child.

Parents also receive free children’s books, and learn the importance of what’s called “serve and return” – responsive interactions that can benefit a child’s physical and emotional growth.

Still, parents say it’s the community-wide connections they appreciate the most, and the realization that in the sometimes stressful journey of parenthood, they are not alone.

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