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Move over, Mary Poppins: here comes Nanny Inc.:

By Daniel B. WoodStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 7, 1983


Mary Poppins has descended on Chicago. More specifically, Beth Smith - Englishwoman, psychologist, professor, divorced mother - has alighted lock, stock, and ''bumbershoot'' at 130 N. Wacker Drive. Her mission, should Americans choose to accept it, is to establish Nanny Inc., the nation's first school for bona fide nannies.

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These nannies won't magically ascend the staircase or float over the housetops via umbrella (bumbershoot) like the Julie Andrews incarnation in Walt Disney's movie. They are, in the words of Dr. Smith, ''people motivated and trained to work with children up to age five - and focusing on the emotional, the social, the cognitive, psychological needs of the child, as opposed to a baby-sitter, who takes care of only physical needs.''

High above the Chicago River, this third class of aspirants is making its way through the 400-hour course modeled after - but not limited by - Britain's age-old concept. Nannies are essential, say Smith and co-founder Mary Ellen Gornick, to meet the needs of two-career families and one-parent households spawned by a US society in transition.

''The influx of women into the work force is vastly altering the needs of families left behind,'' says Smith, who has been compared to Julie Andrews but looks more like actress Lynn Redgrave. ''A few years back, career women tended to stay home until their children were four or five, and then they would go back to work when they were in first grade.

''But now women are clearly committed to a career in their own right, want to have children and do it all - even while the kids are young.'' And she says research shows a majority of new mothers would continue to work, even if they had an option not to: ''They feel good about it, find it very self-satisfying. And we have every reason to believe that trend will continue.''

One instructor gently ''burps'' a life-size baby doll bundled against her shoulder just so. And she demonstrates infant-holding techniques: the more reliable two-hand cradle hold and, to free one hand for chores, the one-hand ''football'' hold. Later, she shows students how an infant is properly bathed.

Female students - from older teen-agers to grandmothers, all dressed in pinstriped pinafores - observe, take notes, and take turns doing the burping, bathing, and bundling.

Though no replacement for mom and dad, nannies aim to be the next best thing. A few days at the school and a glance down the curriculum shows you just how much that can entail. There's the basics, of course, like safety and toilet training, bottle feeding, diapering, laundering, regulating of naps and bedtime and nutrition.

But look, too, at the host of current theories on child development: Piaget, Erikson, the Adlerian approach. Enrollees study pre-natal development, heredity vs. environmental influences, how to instill concepts of right and wrong, the ''appropriate'' development of conscience. The list goes on: developing initiative and autonomy, handling anxiety, anger, aggression. It's enough to make you think that if you didn't need a nanny before, you do now.

In one lecture, Amy Peisker, instructor and faculty coordinator, shows how important it is to nurture a child's natural initiative. This can mean not punishing his curiosity in exploring, as well as not avoiding questions. ''When you give a simple, direct answer, it gives the child confidence that he took initiative in the first place,'' she says. ''Rolling your eyes to questions like 'Where does the moon go?' or 'What if the street were made of fudge?' leads to guilt about being curious. Children personalize it.''

Future nannies are taught the difference between infant, toddler, and preschool stages and are tutored extensively in age appropriateness - what activities, toys, and language are suitable for what ages. Besides 8-to-5 classroom work, 143 hours (approximately eight each week) are spent at local ''practicum'' sites - day-care centers, preschools, and children's hospitals. Nannies are given assignments to observe as well as participate with all ages of children.