Above the murmur of chattering children at play, a sing song voice gathers the children and their adult caregivers to the rug for singing and together time before the end of class.
Behind the voice is teacher Susanna Brown, who brings to the class a focused energy, her genuine love of children and a sincere belief in the mission of Ann Arbor’s First Steps program. The program gives parents and caregivers the support and encouragement they need in helping their children develop and grow in their first years of life. The 30-plus First Steps classes offered year-round through the Rec and Ed division of Ann Arbor Public Schools give children ages 0 to 5 a place to learn alongside a caring adult.
Firsthand knowledge of the benefits
Brown is the proud parent of two boys, one a high school sophomore and the other a sixth-grader. She also knows firsthand the benefits of the program from a parent’s perspective since she participated in classes with her firstborn son when she first moved to Ann Arbor fourteen years ago.
“I met some of my first friends in the Ann Arbor area at First Steps and they are still some of my best friends and biggest supporters,” she said, describing the benefit of having a diverse community of other parents and professional child development experts to offer ideas, information and support.
Giving parents and caregivers confidence
Her own parenting philosophy blends nicely with a First Steps ethos that seeks to give parents and caregivers a confidence in their own child-rearing abilities while building self-confidence in their children. As her boys have grown up in Ann Arbor, Brown said, she has enjoyed the city through her boys, spending a lot of time in their growing up years exploring the city, going to libraries, parks and wherever their curiosity took them.
“Because of that, I think the boys are more curious and inquisitive and not afraid to explore.” She said it is nice watching them find their independence and be able to get on their bikes or get on a bus and go across town. By the same token, she said, it is hard knowing when to help out or when to step in as a parent.
Building resilience in children is vitally important, she said, and starts when they are young. “Resilience can’t grow unless they go over those speed bumps.” In First Steps classes, when a parent is helping their child down the slide, Brown said she might suggest “Let’s wait and closely watch instead of physically helping.”
“Stepping back and observing children during play, at home, or with peers can create those opportunities for them to experience frustration and even failure which in turn, can build resilience and so much more.”
Brown’s favorite part of her job is watching the adult-child relationship develop in her classes and seeing all of the unique personalities and temperaments of the children and adults in the classroom. Building relationships, after all, is paramount in First Steps, and Brown describes the program as more of a community and a family rather than just classes.
Q&A with Susanna Brown
Favorite activities to do with your boys around Ann Arbor: Argo Cascades with our tubes because it’s beautiful and free. We also like to go to U of M’s Elbel Field to watch the U of M band practice.
Number one parenting tip to focus on as school starts: I try to be mindful of creating time when my boys and I are together but not ‘busy.’ This gives them access to me without an agenda. More often than not, during these quiet times, they bring up the stuff that is important to them.
Favorite song: Lately, when I need to quiet my brain and calm my worries, “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam or anything sung by Eddie Vedder.
Favorite music to listen to with your boys: Any song that comes on the radio or Alexa that we all like. It could be to Motörhead, Drake, ABBA, or Adele.