College students can study virtually anything these days.
Alfred University (NY) offers a class titled, “Maple Syrup: The Real Thing” geared towards exploring the history and production process of the sugary staple.
At Hampshire College (Mass.), students can learn how to apply traditional sewing methods to a modern wardrobe by taking “Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use.”
Evergreen State College (Wash.) offers a course simply titled, “Looking at Animals.”
University class lists are filled with obscure yet interesting electives, but one essential subject is often missing from a university’s course catalog: Parenting.
A recent study found that mothers spend an average of 7.5 hours per day, and fathers 4.3 hours, parenting their children. The “Moms Who Do More” National Report commissioned by VTech discovered that 48 percent of women spend more time on parenting than they do on their careers, meaning almost half of all mothers are working the equivalent of two full-time jobs.
But while some parents may have spent hundreds of hours in the classroom preparing for a professional career, many will graduate from college without having taken a single class spotlighting the journey of parenthood.
“Most universities have tended to see their central purpose as preparing students to be effective professionals and citizens rather than readying students for their private lives,” said Chad Raphael, Communication Department chair at Santa Clara University. “We teach all sorts of practical knowledge and skills, but we’re reluctant to focus that teaching entirely on what students will do in their family lives.”
Although many universities like Santa Clara, UCLA or the University of Washington offer courses that focus on aspects of parenting through the lens of some other discipline such as psychology or biology, finding a course dedicated solely to parenting techniques and strategies is difficult at best.
Those interested in parenting courses – especially ones offering college credit – must often look to community college programs. Centralia College (Wash.), the oldest operating community college in the state, offers over a dozen for-credit parenting classes to students and community members alike.
“[Community colleges] are serving a smaller area, smaller community or reaching out to the general population in a different way,” said Cristi Heitschmidt, Associate Dean of Child and Family Studies at Centralia College. “Part of their mandate is to offer community-type programs.”
Among those classes offered is a course on fatherhood as well as a course for alternative caregivers, such as grandparents or relatives. Court ordered classes are also available to parents at Centralia.
As with any discipline, interested learners can certainly find online courses or books to help guide them through the parenting process, but what students miss out on most by not taking a class is hands-on experience, said Heitschmidt. At Centralia, all parenting classes also require a lab component where students can practice different techniques under instructor supervision.
“We really don’t just want to preach at the parents, we want to be interactive, we want them to take the skills and the theories and the things that they’ve been discussing in the class and then put them into practice,” said Heitschmidt.
The only knowledge most parents have by the time duty calls comes from life experiences gathered during their own upbringing, said Heitschmidt. This process allows new parents to understand what didn’t work in their lives, but doesn’t offer much in the way of replacement methods, she added.
So while college graduates continue to enter the work force with adequate preparation for their professional career, it’s their maternal skills that may still need a motherly touch.
“Parents have a dramatic impact, especially [for children] ages zero to five,” said Heitschmidt. “So catching them early and getting classes to them early is really important.”
“Real life is so much different than what’s in a book.”
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