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LaVergne Dickerson has been instructing first aid and babysitting training courses using the American Red Cross curriculum for several years

OH, BABY! You're in good hands

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Why is play important for children's development? What is the most important thing to remember when changing a baby's diaper? What information should you know about a family before agreeing to watch a child?

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They may not be questions every young babysitter considers, but according to LaVergne Dickerson, they should be.

"There is value in grooming yourself for any field," she said.

Dickerson has taught babysitting and first aid courses in Goodhue County for several years. Last week, she instructed six 11- and 12-year-old girls on the ins and outs of taking care of children.

"You've been entrusted with a person's life," Dickerson said.

Dickerson teaches the babysitting course -- which is part of Red Wing Community Education -- about once a month. She uses curriculum from the American Red Cross.

Over the course of two 3.5-hour classes, the students learned basics including the proper way to change a baby's diaper, how to make sure a bottle isn't too hot and how to burp a baby.

The class also touched on child development, teaching participants how to choose age-appropriate games and activities, how to discipline children depending on the situation and how to stay in charge of the children.

"Then we go right into safety," Dickerson said.

The class looked photos of a house to practice spotting potential hazards -- sharp knives left out, hot pans on the stove or the dryer door being left open.

Dickerson covered how to tell if there is danger or if a situation is an emergency, whether it's from weather, crime, fires or a medical situation.

"Use your five senses," she said.

That means listening for odd sounds, keeping an eye out and even checking up on any odd smells.

"If the children are playing, and then suddenly it goes silent, could that be an emergency?" Dickerson asked the class.

She arranged for the girls to call 911 dispatchers and practice answering questions they would be asked in a real call.

Personal examples

For her courses, Dickerson said she tries to incorporate her own experiences. In last week's class, she shared with the students how she was burned as a baby when hot grease was accidentally spilled on her. She also told them about how she had to rescue her daughter after the child began choking on a dime.

"I try to follow the curriculum," Dickerson said. "But there's value in the children seeing that this is real."

But the class doesn't teach only child care and safety. The first lesson the course covers is leadership and being a role model. And that doesn't necessarily mean being a leader to the children, Dickerson said.

"It's how to pull together themselves," she said. "I try to empower them to embrace who they are."

Next, students learned about turning babysitting into a profitable business. Dickerson showed the students how to make a monthly budget by listing all of their income and expenses and making long-term and short-term financial goals.

From there, the students learned how to put together a resume, how to interview with families for babysitting jobs and how to act professionally.

To figure out how much babysitters should charge for their services, Dickerson said they should talk to other families and babysitters in the area to establish a base rate and then take into account any extra children or duties.

"We went through the business of babysitting and what it means to be an entrepreneur," Dickerson said.

After the two-session course, all six girls said they would feel comfortable taking care of young children.

"You can be able to actually babysit," class participant Madeline Ahern said. But Dickerson added that the girls' new skills were applicable to just about any situation.

"If they never babysit outside their own families, they can be responsible by themselves," she said. These are "good life skills to have."

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Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.
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