Egg, vagina and uterus. Sperm and penis. All words of nature, but for years the terms men and women have blushed or smirked at, joked about or just avoided. It's even been easier for many to substitute the cruder nicknames for the labels of these basic parts of a mammai's system, although they're technically no more clinical or naughty than words such as leg, stomach or head. To avoid this awkward product of conditioning, the Ann Arbor Public Schools last year introduced basic instruction in Family Life and Sex Education for first and fifth graders. In a gradual program, schoolchildren learn that mama gerbils can't have babies at a whim, that mice and horses and humans all grow big enough to breath in a mother's stomach before coming out, and why a black cat can have different colored kittens. And they learn all the facts in the basie, if blunt, scientific terms. The picture portrayed in Mrs. Bonnie Jensen's first grade class at Allen Elementary School is not uncommon. During the study of mice owned by a member of the class, a seven-year-old boy explains to a classmate: "When baby mice are born, they're blind and helpless so a mother feeds them with milk through her nipples." Then comes the reply from his friend: "That's the way it is with human babies too, right?" Another boy is, meanwhile, explaining that the penis is the easiest way to teil between a male and female mouse and then, without inhibition, picks up a mouse to demónstrate what he's talking about. The main focus of this program at the first grade level is to intégrate basic family living instruction into daily classwork. It is not concentrated in a special science unit. As Mrs. Jensen explained: "There's no regular time set aside to discuss growth and development. It starts whenever living things come up, so it's an any day type of thing. "The children are encouraged to bring in things they're curious about or to ask questions at any time. For example, one child brought in a story about a bald eagle who had lost part of its wing and couldn't fly. We were concerned with how the bird's accident might affect extinction of the species since eagles mate in the air. "Teachers try to make it a very natural thing for them, never awkward or embarassing," she continued. "In class, I move from something famüiar in their background to the unknown. "For instance, at one point we were lucky enough to find out about a mother of one of the students who was going to have a baby. She visited us when she brought her son to school and then came back with the baby when it was four weeks old. "The kids talked with her and handled the baby. They asked her about how she feit and looked before and after having it, how it altered their family life and even about such things as contractions. "Then her son talked with us about what it was like with a new baby in the family, and what he does now that he didn't do before so the kids can understand how a new baby fits into the roles of the whole family rather than just identifying it with the mother." Mrs. Jensen pointed out the merits of this natural integration versus the one month long separate unit she was forced (next page, please) SUBJECT OF SEX ISN'T AWKWARD FOR FIRST GRADE CLASS (continued) to teach last year as a result of the troversy which delayed a final decisión "I had to teach it all in the last month so the unit wasn't nearly as effective. The children were more aware that this was something different from what they'd been learning all year. And we didn't have as much time to relate it to ; the other things I've been teaching them. "Now we can move from the problems of a little girl without ears to how it happened during pre-natal growth to the i need for healthy and good eating habits and then to how doctors might help her. "The kids are also able to better understand situations such as adoption and divorce. That a child with one of these backgrounds is n o different biologically than any of them. It's all right out in the open. "And it's so much more natural for children to learn about health and development this way because its in perspective with all other things," she added. After 23 years of teaching elementary school, Mrs. Jensen believes first grade is a perfect time to begin sex education so that young people will start with the correct version rather arriving at their own incorrect conclusions or accepting any of the many myths. "The students are free to question at any time and they never need to be curious or squeamish about parts of the body or the scientific terms that describe them. "At seven years old, they're becoming conscious of their own growth and development and can accept sex education as naturally as arithmetic. Their new curiosity and awareness makes this the correct time." Mrs. Jen sen 's first-graders all expressed interest in and approval of the Family Living and Sex Education program. Two of the seven-year-olds articulated their feelings that first grade is a good time to learn such things. Sharon Arnold, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Arnold, explained that the best part of class is "knowing where I came from. I'm not afraid of stuff like that anymore," she volunteered. "We don't see a lot of this in normal life - the pregnant mother mouse or gerbil, and the cat havmg her kittens, she qualified. "So we should get it in school." Brian Atherton, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Atherton, agreed that "it's good to know vvhat we're going to be like when we grow up." He also said that now he talks to his fourth-grade brother about his classwork because "a lot of the things we learn he didn't have in the first grade." Both Brian and Sharon believe first graders can handle the subject and that nothing embarrasses thero. Brian admitted to being surprised by some of it, but claims it's all "pretty interesting." Most of the children seemed more concerned with the animal than human side of ha ving and taking care of babies, although all are able to apply it to themselves. Brian's response was typical. He shrugged, "I know the difference between boys and girls, and that it takes a male sperm and a female's egg o make a baby, but I don't think there's any big deal about it."
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