Water Safety…a Skill That Saves Lives

The month of May signals the beginning of summer fun: playing outside, splashing in outdoor pools and spending time in or near lakes and oceans. May is also water safety month. Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five? Or that a young child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water? Drowning can happen quickly and when we least expect it. Water safety education is extremely important and should be something every parent and early childhood educator teaches their children or students. Although enrolling your preschooler in a quality swim program will not prevent drowning, (proper adult supervision is the best prevention) participation in swimming lessons will add awareness.

British Swim School– We are surrounded by water with a pond in our backyard and summers spent at our family’s lake house. My husband and I want to insure our daughter feels comfortable in the water while developing the proper safety skills, so we enrolled her in the British Swim School when she was two-years old. Founded in 1981, the British Swim School teaches water safety survival skills to children as young as three months. Children are immediately taught the back float which is considered the most important water survival skill as it enables swimmers to rest, breathe and call for help, alleviating the silent danger of floating face down.

Our daughter began in the Swimboree class which requires adult participation (an adult goes in the pool with the child). Through nursery rhymes and engaging songs, our knowledgeable instructor, Miss Kayla, helped our daughter feel comfortable in the water. Miss Kayla assisted Lillian with the ability to turn over in the water until she was independently floating on her back. (Lillian learned quickly and was never afraid) When she turned three, Lillian moved to the Minnow class where she goes into the pool by herself. The thought of going into the pool without Mommy was a bit stressful for Lillian so Miss Kayla gradually got her prepared by having me step out of the pool for longer periods of time, gradually releasing her to independence. Now she eagerly goes into the pool independently and is thriving at the next level where they practice safe pool entry and exit and are learning “monkey, airplane, soldier” (arm movements in the water) as well as jumping into the water and turning onto their backs to float. All of the instructors are well trained and amazing with children but Lillian has a special bound with Miss Kayla. The British Swim School has small class sizes so each student gets one on one instruction and differentiated support. The program is flexible, allowing students to easily make up a class if one is missed due to any circumstance. A busy family like ours really appreciates this benefit. Their number one priority is teaching water safety so water safety rules and procedures are practiced and enforced. Every so many months they have a special “water safety week” where students are encouraged to wear light clothing over their swimsuits so they can get the feel of what it is like to be in water fully clothed. They practice shouting for help and learn how to safely assist someone who has fallen into the water and is in need of help.

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Lillian enjoys taking lessons with the British Swim School. Here she is with her instructor, Miss Kayla.

Josh the Baby Otter (A tale promoting water safety for children)– The British Swim School recently gifted us with the fabulous book “Josh the Baby Otter” by Blake Collingsworth and illustrated by Ashley Spitsnogle. The book was written in honor of the author’s son, Joshua, and in memory of all the precious children who have been lost to the tragedy of drowning. The delightful picture book teaches children about water safety through the adventures of Josh, a baby otter who is learning how to float on his back. “One of the first things otters teach their babies is how to float. This keeps them safe in the water. When we get tired, or the waters are too rough to swim, we can roll on our backs, look up at the sky, relax and float.” Learning how to float is the first step to learning how to swim. The book emphasizes the importance of staying away from all kinds of water unless you are with an adult and making sure you always swim with a buddy. The back of the book contains some valuable resources for children and adults. There is a cute “Learn to Float” song, facts about otters and a list of water safety tips. After reading the book children can take the Josh the Otter Water Safety Pledge. There is also a free “Josh the Otter” app where children can read the story, listen to the song, take the water safety pledge and enjoy coloring pages. Please visit www.joshtheotter.org for more information regarding water safety and to learn more about the “Josh the Otter” project, an organization devoted to water safety education. The book can be purchased on the “Josh the Otter” website or at Amazon. All proceeds from the sale of the book go directly to drowning prevention and instruction.

Two Noteworthy Teachers “Changing Lives Through Music”

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week I wanted to highlight two teachers who have touched my life. To them, teaching isn’t simply a job, it’s a passion! Through their gift of music they are changing the lives of children in a positive way. Portions of this article appeared in the Community Music School of Webster University e-blast in May 2018.

I began taking clarinet lessons at the Community Music School of Webster University (CMS) as a young adult. My teacher, Jeannie York Garesche, helped me with the fundamentals and gave me the confidence as a performer to become a member of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony. “Jeanine personalized each lesson, was patient with me and always set high expectations. Through her instruction, mentor-ship and support, I was able to perform at a level I never thought possible!” Over the years Jeanne and I have kept in touch and my husband and I were honored when she accepted the invitation to perform at our wedding. She is a talented professional musician and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study under her.

Jennifer and her clarinet teacher Ms. Jeanine York Garesche.

Music brings a lot of joy to my life and I want my daughter Lillian to grow up appreciating music and having opportunities to express herself musically. So I enrolled Lillian in Kindermusik classes at the CMS when she was 8 months old. Lillian and I enjoy going to class together and we both love her teacher, Ms. Jeanne Magee! “Ms. Jeanne is outstanding! It is clear she is passionate about music and is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to child development. She is warm and welcoming and makes learning fun.” Jeanne has a beautiful voice, supports my blog and is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! I consider her a mommy mentor and a friend.

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Lillian and her Kindermusik teacher Ms. Jeanne Magee.

A busy life as a full time mommy, part time educational consultant and active musician have sadly made it challenging for me to continue taking clarinet lessons. Even though I don’t currently study privately, when I perform with the Saint Louis Wind Symphony or the Northwinds Concert Band, I continue to apply what Jeanine taught me. If I ever slow down I hope to study with Jeanine again some day. Lillian has learned to keep a steady beat, recognize loud and soft and often sings the songs or does the dances she has learned in Ms. Jeanne’s class. Lillian is three so we get to enjoy two more years of Kindermusik at the CMS! I will always be grateful to the CMS and their dedicated teachers for providing me and my daughter with quality music instruction.

Teachers often don’t get the opportunity to hear how they have changed lives. So I challenge each of you to take the time to write a note or send an email to a teacher who impacted your life. Let your child’s teacher know how much you appreciate the work they do or encourage your child to write a note or draw a picture. As a former teacher I valued those personal notes far more than any of the lotion, scented candles or coffee mugs I received!

An Extraordinary Boy, a Remarkable Book and an Unique Brain

I know a fourteen year old boy who is funny and lovable. He plays soccer and video games. He loves game shows, animated movies, bridges, nature and his family. He dislikes loud noises (especially fireworks), large crowds and changes to his schedule. He loves to explore new places (through the safety of the family mini van) and enjoys leisurely car rides with his mother. He is smart. He can name every exit between my house and my in-laws and knows the name of every bridge in the county! He has a smile that will light up the room and melt your heart. He is void of any sensors and simply says what is on his mind. And as you can imagine this often gets him into trouble. He has one speed which is best described as…supercharged. He has an incredible older brother who is both patient and kind and two loving parents who work hard to help him navigate the world. He is extraordinary! I love him. He is my nephew. His name is Derrick. He is on the autism spectrum.

Statistics show that at least someone you know has autism or is on the autistic spectrum. It might be a neighbor or a friend, a classmate or a family member or a little boy or girl you occasionally see at church. And chances are, at first glance, you don’t even know he or she has autism.

I want my daughter to grow up celebrating and accepting differences. So what’s the best way to help your preschooler understand family members and friends who are extra sensitive because their brains interpret things differently? In our house we use picture books to introduce our daughter to new topics. Picture books are a terrific way to initiate conversations and to build awareness and I am always on the lookout for new titles.

I was recently sent the most amazing picture book, “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates,” a new book by author Christine Bronstein with illustrations by Karen L. Young. In the book the teacher explains that like snowflakes and handprints, “No two minds are the same.” Our brains are one-of-a-kind and that is what makes us unique. After the teacher encourages the class to play with someone new, Penelope gets to know Eric who is “on the spectrum.” Eric doesn’t like loud noises so before he comes over for a play-date, Penelope and her brothers practice being quiet and flexible. They also learn how to read body language with their eyes as a way to understand how someone is feeling.

Reading “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates.

My daughter and I enjoyed reading the book together. The illustrations are colorful and inviting and the message of inclusion is an important lesson for all ages. The author reminds us, “It’s very important to play with people who may seem different at first because they can teach us new ways of looking at the world.” In the back of the book there are helpful tips for special need families as well as tips to welcome special needs families to a play-date. I really liked the friendship goal chart along with the friendship award as they are useful tools to educate children about inclusion.

People, like snowflakes and hand-prints, are individual and unique. And the way our brains interpret the world is just as distinctive. By embracing neuro-diversity and teaching our children techniques to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted; we can provide our children with a gift that will last a lifetime!

Buy the book here. https://www.amazon.com/Stewie-BOOM-Princess-Penelope-Handprints/dp/0997296275

And Just Like That Our Little Lady Was Potty Trained

Potty training is one of the biggest events in early childhood and everyone appears to have an opinion. There are countless books written on the topic and the Internet is flooded with tips. Although I found the advice useful, every child is different and my daughter’s potty training journey didn’t replicate any of the plans I read online. Her journey from diapers to underwear was individualized and unique, just like her!

Now I have to confess something…our potty training adventure wasn’t exactly as quick as the title of this article implies. In fact, as I browse through old pictures I realize I have been doing things to prepare for this day for an entire year!

Although my parents never mentioned it I could tell they were wondering if I was ever going to potty train my daughter. After all I was potty trained before the age of three and in a little over a month my daughter will be three and a half! I began to feel like I was a bad mommy since all of my daughter’s friends were fully potty trained; many for almost a year now! With some, the parents were forced to speed up the process because of daycare. Some of her friends showed signs of readiness and potty trained at an early age while others had baby siblings on the way and potty training their oldest before a baby was added to the family just made sense.

Since I spend most of the time at home with my daughter and she won’t start preschool for another four months, we had plenty of time to spend on potty training. I carefully observed her for readiness signs and created a potty friendly environment for her to learn in. I believe in child centered learning but there are a lot of things that need to be in place for success. My daughter wouldn’t be potty trained without purposeful intent by me, her teacher. Below I describe the steps I took on our “tear free” potty training journey.

Modeling- When my daughter was very young I took her into the bathroom with me. Through watching me she learned the steps: sitting on the potty, wiping with toilet paper, flushing and washing hands. Although at eighteen months she wasn’t ready to abandon her diapers just yet, she often mimicked me by grabbing a fist full of toilet paper and pretending to wipe herself while she was fully clothed! As Lillian got older, many of her friends were toilet training and during play dates she saw her friends go potty. Through modeling, especially by her peers, Lillian showed more interest in going potty.

Picture Book- We began reading books about going potty shortly after my daughter turned two years of age. A friend gave us the book, “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz and it became an instant favorite. Around this time my daughter went through a Daniel Tiger phase and she fell in love with the “Daniel Goes to the Potty” book that comes with a button that makes a flushing sound. The reader is encouraged to press the flush button each time Daniel Tiger uses the potty. The book follows the same storyline and includes the catchy “potty song” that appears in the Daniel Tiger episode “Daniel Goes to the Potty.” “Everyone Poops” is a classic by Taro Gomi and we enjoyed learning about different kinds of animals and the various ways they go to the bathroom.

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A few of our favorite potty themed picture books.

Selecting a Potty- Lillian helped pick out a little Minnie Mouse potty at the store and both sets of grandparents bought matching ones for their homes. This consistency proved to be helpful because Lillian didn’t regress when she spent the day or night with her grandparents. At first she sat on her potty but after awhile she occasionally went on the potty. She role played by having her stuffed animals use her potty. Her little potty is located in our master bathroom and that is where it has stayed throughout the entire process. Even though Lillian had her own little potty she sat on the big potty sometimes. In fact she loved trying out potties in public places and at family and friends homes. We never had a problem using bathrooms in public places because Lillian learned early on that there are potties everywhere!

Lillian’s Minnie Mouse potty.

Motivation Chart and Rewards- A few months after Lillian turned three I introduced a sticker chart for extra motivation. I waited until the holidays were over and we were back to a “normal” schedule with no out of town trips planned or any other unusual distractions. But the chart I selected simply wasn’t working. The goals on the chart were too ambitious for her and she wasn’t earning any stickers. I looked online and found a Paw Patrol Potty Chart! Click on this link to download the chart. paw-patrol-potty-training

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The Paw Patrol chart that was a huge success!

Lillian is really into Paw Patrol and the tasks on the chart were attainable for a beginner. (Told an adult I needed to go, Pulled down my pants, Sat on the potty, Went in the potty, Washed my hands) After she filled an entire chart with stickers she got a small Paw Patrol toy. The chart followed her to her grandparents house and we made sure to add stickers if she went potty while we were away from home. When she began to show success and filled up the chart at a faster pace I changed the categories on the chart to include two columns for “Went on the potty” and then added a column for “Went poop on the potty” and “Staying dry all day.” This gradual release of increased expectation proved to be very successful.

Big Girl Underwear- I bought Lillian Minnie Mouse underwear when she was two years old. She showed no interest in wearing them. One day she spied some Paw Patrol underwear at Target and she got so excited I bought them. But she still refused to wear underwear. I thought starting her in pull ups before underwear would be successful but she showed little interest in wearing pull ups (even though they are very similar to diapers.)  So to my surprise we potty trained in a diaper. She would pull down her pants, rip off her diaper and pee in the potty, so I simply went with it. At first it required suggestions from me but soon after she was running to the bathroom and going independently. On Easter Monday I asked her if she wanted to wear big girl underwear and she said yes! She stayed dry all day and after that she never wore diapers again!

My daughter’s potty training story reminds me that sometimes all it takes is time, motivation and a little bit of encouragement for something to happen. Forcing someone to do something before they are truly ready causes tears and frustration for everyone involved. Learning is a process and everyone learns at his/her own pace, following a timeframe that often doesn’t match our own expectations.

The Candy Lady “Sharing Sweetness Around Our Town”

It was a Tuesday afternoon and my daughter and I were on our weekly shopping trip to Aldi. While waiting to pay for our groceries a friendly lady, with only a few items in her cart, joined us in line. She smiled sweetly and commented on my daughter’s cuteness and good behavior. Since we had a cart full of groceries I motioned for her to go in front of us. She graciously thanked us and approached the cashier. She appeared to be a local celebrity because the cashier, along with the rest of the workers, seemed to know who she was and she was greeted with smiles, friendly waves and hugs! As my daughter and I were bagging our groceries the lady thanked us once again for letting her go ahead of us and asked, “Can your daughter have candy?” Although I was taught to never take candy from a stranger, this lady was clearly a regular shopper and I trusted the miniature candy bar she was offering my three-year old was safe to eat. As my daughter embraced the candy in her little hands, the lady thanked us for our kindness and wished us a good day. I helped my daughter unwrap the chocolate goodness and used this encounter as an opportunity to teach my offspring that when you do something kind for others, you get kindness in return.

Fast forward a month and you will find my daughter and I enjoying a spaghetti lunch with my mom and dad at our local Fazoli’s. A friendly lady wearing a beautiful cross necklace said hello as she passed our table. My dad complemented her on the delicate cross necklace and a few minutes later the lady returned asking if my daughter could have candy. When I responded favorably she showered our table with chocolates. My mind raced to the lady who gave us candy at Aldi’s and I quickly realized we were having another sweet encounter with the candy lady!

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A picture with Edy “The Candy Lady”

This time I discovered the candy lady is Edy and that she never leaves home without a bag of chocolate. She finds joy handing out candy to workers at the establishments she frequents, bringing a little sweetness to others in what may otherwise be an ordinary day. In return, they look forward to Edy’s visits and she is treated with kindness and respect. In the fast paced world we live in we often don’t take the time to connect with others. How many times have you been guilty of being on your cell phone while a cashier rings up your groceries? Or being distracted by your little one or your lengthy “to do list” or the many other stresses in your life that you barely make eye contact with the worker who fills your order? Edy reminded me how important it is to take the time to be kind and considerate and to let people know, “You are important, I notice you and I appreciate the work you do!” And as a parent I need to remember there is a little person watching my every move, observing my actions and reactions and striving to be just like me! Through a smile, a friendly nod or a simple “thank you,” we can all be like Edy and together we can make the world a sweeter place.

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Lillian was Inspired by Edy “The Candy Lady.” She is sorting candy to share with others.

On the Other Side of the Glass

Since my daughter was a tiny 4 month old I have enjoyed taking her to a variety of adult/child classes. Over the years we have listened to stories and made crafts at the library, walked across the balance beam and learned basic ballet positions at The Little Gym, popped bubbles and played with the parachute at Gymboree, clapped to the steady beat and danced at Kindermusik and learned to float independently in the pool at the British Swim School.Lillian has never attended a daycare and won’t start an organized preschool until next school year, so the classes have provided her with an opportunity to socialize with other children while being exposed to a variety of age appropriate skills and topics. Having a class on the calendar has gotten us out of the house on days where we might have stayed in and have given me an opportunity to learn more about child development. During the first year of participating in classes I developed close friendships with some of the other mothers which I previously wrote about here in The Library Girls article.

But this article isn’t a review about the individual classes (although I have enjoyed things about all of them). Instead it’s about the sudden change that took place in each of the classes that turned our world upside down when Lillian turned three! Upon turning three the adult/child classes immediately went away and the children are moved into a class without an adult companion. And the class expectations became more rigorous as well. Where the adult/child classes were all about “free exploration” the preschool classes require more listening skills, more responsibility and more cooperation.

Lillian suffers from separation anxiety so I knew making the transition from having mommy constantly by her side to going into class by herself was going to rock her little world in the worst way. Not to mention causing added stress and anxiety for mommy! So a month or so before she turned three we began to discuss the possibility. We also read books where the main characters go to school without their mommy. Our favorite was “Llama, Llama, Misses Mama.” We stayed after class and observed the “big kids” interacting with the teacher by themselves and acted out what it would look and feel like with her beloved stuffed animals.

The Little Gym class was the first class she tried on her own. She wasn’t looking forward to it but I assured her I wasn’t going to leave her and even sat in the back of the room for the first week. All of the preparation paid off because she did great and was the perfect little listener. In fact, like many children her age, she was more engaged and on task without me being by her side. It became clear that she was developmentally ready for this new milestone, although mommy shed a few tears knowing this transition signaled that her chubby little toddler had turned into a big preschooler! The next week she went in by herself and a month later she said, “You can leave now,” as I walked her into the dance classroom!

Now when we go to classes at The Little Gym, participate in Kindermusik or swim at The British Swim School, a thin piece of glass separates us. I get a few minutes to myself and have the opportunity to engage in adult conversation without interruption while Lillian is gaining self-reliance and is learning to navigate life without mommy. She is thriving in all of her classes and enjoys her new found independence. I am proud of her accomplishments and celebrated when she went into the swimming pool all by herself! This was the most difficult class for her to transition out of and although she hasn’t officially moved to the next class just yet, her swim teacher has been brilliant and so supportive, gradually releasing her to swim class without mommy by adding more independence with each passing lesson and having me step out of the pool for longer periods of time.

As I study Lillian’s every move “on the other side of the glass,” I can’t help but get a bit teary eyed when my mini me turns away from the group, peers out of the glass that divides us and searches for me with her big blue eyes. When she locates me she gets the biggest grin on her face, searching for the reassurance that I am still there and as if to say, “Mommy, I’m a big girl now but I still need you!” I gently smile back, my heart overflowing with joy knowing that my big preschooler continues to need my love and support even if I’m not by her side. After our quiet exchange she happily returns to the classroom activity and I continue to watch her on the other side of the glass.

Showing Love to Our Feathered Friends

When I was teaching kindergarten in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in the state of Missouri, one of my favorite activities was taking my class to Little Creek Nature Area, a nature preserve owned and operated by the school district. Kindergarten students had the opportunity to visit Little Creek multiple times a year and my favorite visit was the winter one where we learned about winter birds. The Little Creek teachers taught us that some birds stay in Missouri throughout the year. We were shown beautiful photographs of these birds so we could identify them when we went bird watching. Each child made a pair of binoculars, two bird feeders (one to put in a tree at Little Creek and another to take home). The children armed with their binoculars and new bird watching knowledge were in awe when they went bird watching by peering out the huge observation window. With quiet anticipation we watched red feathered Cardinals, brown Wrens and little Black Capped Chickadees fly from tree to tree and feast on the seed filled pine cone feeders we had prepared. The visit ended with a story in front of the fireplace. We sipped hot cocoa topped with marshmallows and munched on homemade Cardinal Cookies while the teacher read winter stories.

I recently attempted to replicate some of the activities my students enjoyed so my three-year old daughter could experience some of the Little Creek winter magic. The following is a description of the activities.

Pine Cone Bird Feeders– Lillian enjoyed this popular winter activity that I remember from my childhood. We collected pine cones in the park, covered them lightly with peanut butter and then rolled them in bird seed. We attached a red piece of yarn to the top and they were ready to hang on the little tree outside our window.

BinocularsMade out of two toilet paper rolls, yarn and decorated with stickers, Lillian loves her bird watching binoculars! I stapled the toilet paper rolls together and attached yarn to one side so she could wear them around her neck. We decorated our binoculars with stickers but we could have used crayons.

Cardinal Cookies- img_4762Nana joined in the fun by helping us make Cardinal Cookies! Named for the beautiful red bird who loves sunflower seeds, this easy drop cookie has a peanut butter base and is rolled in sunflower seeds prior to baking. My little one loved making the cookies but enjoyed eating them even more!img_4764-1

 

My Book of Birds Inspired by my trips to Little Creek my dad and I created this mini book years ago for my kindergarten students. It focuses on counting along with bird identification and contains beautiful illustrations drawn by my dad! We want to share our book with you! Download the reproducible book for free by clicking on this link. My Book of Birds

Read Aloud Books Featuring Birds– One of my favorite winter picture books is Lois Ehlert’s “Snowballs.” This book introduces the reader to a snow family complete with a snow dog and cat! Ms. Ehlert creates beautiful snow figure collages filled with items birds and squirrels would find yummy to eat during the cold winter weather.

The number of feathered friends to visit our bird feeder was limited but we enjoyed the few wrens that ventured to our little tree. We look forward to repeating this activity next year and hope the wrens come back and bring their friends to our home for a winter feast!

Why I Cried During Paw Patrol Live

My three year old daughter loves puppies and like many children her age she is obsessed with anything and everything Paw Patrol. If you have a preschooler in your life you probably know Ryder and his team of search and rescue pups that protect the residents of Adventure Bay. What started out as an animated series has grown into a franchise filled with a collection of toys and merchandise from books and games to plastic plates and underwear! And to bring the pups from Paw Patrol directly to boys and girls in cities across the world there are currently two touring live stage shows.

Now why did I cry at the show? Well, you might think I cried because spending two hours in a theater filled with preschoolers on a Saturday night isn’t exactly on my bucket list. Or that I cried because my family paid $376.50 for five center aisle seats to see Paw Patrol Live! (this included a discount my friend got us from Citi Bank) My husband felt like crying when he found out he was going to spend a Saturday night seeing Paw Patrol Live while the St. Louis Blues were playing in the arena right next to the theater! But the tickets were a Christmas gift from Nana and we all piled into the mini van and willingly went to the show because it was a dream come true for our sweet little Lillian.

I shed a few tears when the curtain opened and the music started playing and a huge smile appeared on my daughter’s face. Imagine her excitement seeing the beloved characters she reads about in books, sees animated on the screen and loves on toys and puzzles, magically come to life on the stage right in front of her! When Ryder introduced each of the pups on the Paw Patrol team she clapped her hands and sang along to the theme song. I enjoyed watching my daughter more than the show! I delighted in seeing my parents smile sweetly at their little granddaughter, knowing they had made a little girl’s dream come true! And the enthusiasm continued until the actors took their final curtain call and the lights came on.

Seeing the joy on my daughter’s face and experiencing this event with my husband and my parents certainly brought me joy. But what truly brought tears to my eyes is when I suddenly realized that my parents, my husband and I wouldn’t be sitting in this theater, at this particular moment, seeing this specific show, if there was no Lillian. My mind rushed through all of the wonderful things we have done together and all of the experiences we will enjoy in the future because of the little girl sitting next to me. I looked around the theater and every adult was accompanied by at least one little person between the ages of 2-6! I felt honored to be a member of this elite group. Membership I feel privileged to have received and that I will never take for granted.

For a brief moment I went to a dark place and I thought about a life without Lillian. It isn’t something I can ever imagine now but at one time prepared for. During our final IVF cycle (our fourth and final cycle) my husband and I had to accept the statistics and come to peace with the fact that we may never have a child of our own. I thought of the women who continue the fertility struggle and those who may be dreaming of sitting in my seat at the theater at this very moment. My husband and I would have had a blessed life no matter what the outcome but it wouldn’t have been this life. We may have adopted a child or fostered a child but we wouldn’t have this child. We wouldn’t have Lillian and we wouldn’t be sitting together as a family at the Peabody Opera House on this January evening enjoying a performance of Paw Patrol Live.

“Parents as Teachers” (A Powerful Partnership)

I first heard about Parents as Teachers in the summer of 1997. I was taking a graduate course in family involvement at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and Parents as Teachers was mentioned in my textbook. I was thrilled to read how the program was founded in 1984 in Missouri and that my school district, Ferguson Florissant School District, piloted the program. (I had just completed my first year teaching kindergarten in the district) Little did I know the connection I would later have with the Francis Howell School District (the other Missouri School District to pilot Parents as Teachers) and the positive influence Parents as Teachers would have on me and my miracle baby twenty years later!

Parents as Teachers is an international nonprofit organization that promotes early development, learning and health of young children. Through home visits, the parent educators equip parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children (prenatal through kindergarten) with a stronger start in life, which leads to greater success in school and beyond.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian meet for the first time.

A few months before Lillian was born I called our local school district and enrolled in the Parents as Teachers program. Deanna Robbins, our knowledgeable home educator, made her first visit to our home when Lillian was one month old. She made her last visit a few days before Lillian’s third birthday. In most school districts, children age out of Parents as Teachers when they turn three years of age, reserving resources for the most crucial stage of child development (prenatal to age 3) and for older children identified with developmental delays or IEPs (individual educational plans.) Throughout the years, Ms. Deanna became more than a teacher; she became a friend and confidant. I looked forward to her visits where I eagerly reported Lillian’s latest milestones and I enjoyed updates about her growing family. Ms. Deanna asked me to serve on Francis Howell’s Parents as Teachers Advisory Board and I gladly accepted. We all shed a few tears in November when she presented Lillian with a program completion certificate, signaling our last visit.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian during our last PAT visit.

Ms. Deanna visited us six times a year, always bringing activities for Lillian to engage in and leaving behind handouts with valuable developmental information and inexpensive suggestions for learning opportunities in the home. Participants in the program were invited to parent meetings on a variety of topics from potty training to nutrition. Lillian and I both enjoyed many of the parent/child events including a messy play day and a storybook walk. Twice a year Ms. Deanna conducted a developmental screening. After, she discussed the results and assured me that Lillian was mastering her developmental targets while offering suggestions on things I could do to challenge Lillian and assist her in reaching her fullest potential.

I have a Masters degree in early childhood education so a lot of the information shared during our visits was familiar. But even with my extensive prior knowledge in child development, I learned some new strategies from Ms. Deanna and Lillian loved the extra attention and benefited from the learning experiences. The visits offered the opportunity for another professional to observe my daughter. It is easy for a parent to overlook a need in their own child even when they are an expert in identifying needs in other children. About a year ago, during one of the screenings, Ms. Deanna casually questioned if Lillian was articulating the ends of her words. As a novice speaker with a robust vocabulary (well beyond her years), I initially brushed off the idea that Lillian had any articulation errors. She was a newly turned two year old after all! If she had any speech issues they were surely developmental in nature. But Ms. Deanna’s observation stuck with me and I began to question, “Does Lillian have articulation errors?” I understand her just fine but I spend most of my days as a stay at home mommy so we are together non-stop. Lillian could grunt and use gestures and I would know exactly what she was communicating!

We continued the rest of the two year old visits and the articulation issue was never mentioned again. As the last visit approached, I had nearly convinced myself that Lillian needed speech therapy. I don’t know if Lillian really had a speech issue or if Ms. Deanna and I secretly hoped she did so our visits could continue! The day had come for our last home visit. Ms. Deanna gave Lillian her last developmental screening and Lillian was mastering every task. Then we got to the speech articulation part. Ms. Deanna asked Lillian to repeat a word and that’s when our hypothesis was confirmed. Lillian consistently left the ends off of almost every word she was asked to repeat. Still unsure if Lillian would qualify for speech therapy, Ms. Deanna recommended a full speech evaluation through the Francis Howell School District. Wanting what is best for my child, we did the additional screening and the results indicated Lillian was eligible for speech therapy. Lillian is inconsistent in her production of /m/, /p/ and /b/, which according to the norms should be present at three years of age. She also leaves off the endings of a lot of words, substitutes some medial sounds and consonant blends. Her language skills are off the charts but as her sentences become longer and her words more complex, I have observed her speech becoming increasingly unintelligible and have seen her become frustrated when others can’t understand what she is saying.

I honestly would never have picked up on Lillian’s articulation errors without Ms. Deanna’s keen observations. I easily would have dismissed them as developmental and Lillian would have gone undiagnosed. I will forever be grateful to Ms. Deanna and the Parents as Teachers program for identifying Lillian’s needs and getting her the assistance to be successful. And as an extra bonus, Ms. Deanna will continue visiting us!

Parents as Teachers is an amazing partnership and I encourage everyone with young children to sign up for the program! Parents will always be their child’s first and most important teacher but in this busy, often stressful world of parenthood, this Mommy is happy to have Parents as Teachers and parent educators like Ms. Deanna to help me navigate the early years.

Ending 2017 “On a High Note”

Thank you for your overwhelming love and support in regards to my writing endeavors. I am pleased to announce that “Noteworthy Mommy” was named one of the Top 100 Upcoming Mummy Blogs for 2017! The Dutch website, mrkortingscode.nl, discovered me on the web, enjoyed my authentic stories on juggling a busy life as a wife, mummy, musician and part time educational consultant and they included my site on their list. I look forward to sharing my adventures as a first time mommy of a three year old with all of you in 2018!

Although I ultimately write my stories as a childhood memory for my little Lillian, nothing brings me greater joy then having my words resonate with others. So keep the comments coming, sign up to follow “Noteworthy Mommy” via email and on Facebook. And if you enjoy my stories, spread the word by telling others about “Noteworthy Mommy!”