To her family, she’s known as the baby-whisperer. “Sometimes, if I’m in a store and see a mom with a child who is throwing a tantrum, I’ll ask if I can help.” And she does. “They calm right down.”
Christian Darden has worked in early childhood education for about 18 years. The last three years have been with Frazer Center. She was hired as an assistant teacher in the midst of the pandemic, and it wasn't long before she was promoted to a lead teacher position working with 2- and 3-year-olds.
Christian has a heart for service, but her career path has not necessarily been a linear one. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. When she became a young mother, she wanted to find work that would allow her to stay close to her infant daughter, Trinity. She tried working at a residential home for adults with disabilities, but when she could not bring Trinity with her to stay for overnight shifts, she decided that working in early childhood education could be the best way forward.
Christian worked for a few different early education centers in Knoxville, including one that served children of mothers dealing with drug addiction. After Trinity got a little older and Christian didn’t need to bring her to work anymore, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley had an open position for an art teacher. “I’ve just always loved art, so I went for it,” she says, and she landed the job.
From there she worked for the Knoxville Community Action Committee (CAC) where she helped people who were elderly and home-bound with minor home repairs. “I had on-the-job training. We did things like repairing stairs and making ramps.” She also worked in the CAC Beardsley Community Farm. “Trinity could sit among the strawberries while we were weeding, making butter, things like that. It was fun!”
By the time Trinity was six, Christian moved her family to Georgia to be closer to her mother and aunts who had relocated to Stone Mountain. Things were difficult at first as she tried to find her bearings in the new environment. She had a newborn son, Jackson, whom she stayed home with until he was a year old. She went back into early childhood education for a bit before deciding to make a shift and go back to school for a degree in human resources management.
Through her church community, she found a job with the Toys“R”Us distribution center in McDonough, but before long, they closed down.
Christian wasn’t sure what step to take next—stay in human resources working with adults or go back to early childhood education? That’s when she learned about an opening at the Frazer Center. A friend from church was a former Frazer teacher and told Christian “it was a warm and welcoming place and that you work with children with special needs.” Still unsure about which way to turn, her family reminded The Baby Whisperer of her superpowers. Ultimately, she felt called to return to the little ones and decided to give Frazer a try.
“When I drove up on the property, I was like—am I lost? What is this place?” Christian laughs. “Everyone was smiling and inviting,” just as her friend had said. “The Frazer Center teachers are great. Everyone tries to help each other. We’ll share lessons. If someone needs a shoulder or prayer, we’re there for them.”
Returning to early childhood education during the pandemic had its challenges. The children had been sheltering at home and were not necessarily acclimated to a structured environment. Much of Christian’s focus turned to social-emotional learning—how to play with other children, adjusting to transitions throughout the day, understanding emotions in oneself and others, how to express one’s needs with language rather than tantrums.
For a 2- or 3-year-old, “a first thought might be, I’m angry, let me throw something,” explains Christian. “We can give them a name for what they are feeling and ways to calm themselves, to self-soothe with techniques like breathing, jumping up and down, painting a picture, hugging a teacher.” Christian reinforces language around emotions. “I don’t answer to baby talk. I say let’s have a conversation, you’re almost 3 now.”
Christian really loves teaching social-emotional learning. “Frazer Center and the inclusion coaches really opened that door for me,” she says. Her philosophy around it is: “the only bad behavior is one that I can’t handle. If it irritates me, I’m going to label it as bad behavior.” This emphasis on social-emotional skills makes for a peaceful environment, as many colleagues and parents have pointed out to Christian when they go into her classroom.
There are several perks that Christian loves about working at Frazer. She finds the low teacher-to-student ratios refreshing. She identifies as a nature person, so the nature curriculum is a great bonus. “The first day I saw that stream in the forest, I said, Hey can we play in there?? YES, we can play in there!”
Christian’s affinity for outdoor play made her a perfect candidate to contribute to the development of the nature curriculum with the team from the Georgia State University Urban Child Study Center. “I love that Frazer is totally play-based. Climbing trees, playing in the stream, getting dirty, fresh air, exploring the woods. It’s awesome! I wish every school could do it.”
In fact, her dream for Frazer is that there will be several locations throughout Atlanta providing inclusion nature-based education to children living in under-resourced communities. “Not every place has an old-growth forest, but they might be adjacent to a park or trail, or they can even get outside into their own schoolyard for nature play and lessons.”
Perhaps one of Christian’s favorite perks is getting to work with her daughter, Trinity, who is also a teacher at Frazer. “It’s great!” Christian says. “We have a really good relationship. Trinity is happy, and she gives me a hug when we see each other in the hall.” The biggest challenge for Christian is switching roles from Mom to Colleague. “It’s important to keep that boundary between work and home. Trinity has to learn to handle challenges and speak up for herself without me intervening. I had to learn to do that too.”
When Christian isn’t working, she enjoys making art and jewelry, hiking, watching movies, laughing with friends and family, and teaching in the children’s ministry at her church. She also wants to travel, particularly to Korea where a friend of hers is from.
As for her future, Christian is certain she wants to continue helping children with their social-emotional skills, but she might want to shift into art therapy or possibly training teachers. Whatever direction Christian’s path takes, her heart for service adds tremendous value to our Frazer Center team. She may never know the long-term impact that she has on her young students, but the grins of the children who run to greet her every morning fill her with hope.