“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.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

My daughter is obsessed with everything Daniel Tiger! “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is an animated children’s television series targeted at preschool-aged children. The program is based on the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the long-running family-oriented television series created and hosted by Fred Rogers. Little Lillian loves watching the show and reading Daniel Tiger books. She has a red toy trolley complete with the “ding ding” sound effect and a miniature Daniel Tiger (dressed in Fred Roger’s iconic red sweater) that fits perfectly inside. The steps in our home have been transformed into a trolley and Lillian asks family and friends to take an imaginary ride to the library, grocery store or doctor’s office on a daily basis. Lillian enjoys acting out the show’s familiar opening scene by sitting in her little chair and singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” while carefully putting her shoes on. Our little girl is filled with great imagination!

While watching Daniel Tiger and his friends I am transported back to my childhood where I enjoyed watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and became enchanted with Daniel Striped Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, Mr. McFeely and others in “The Land of Make Believe.” Many of these characters (or their offspring) appear in “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” When I watch the show with my daughter its like seeing old friends from forty years ago! This new show carries on Fred Roger’s legacy by supporting whole child development and is based upon Fred Rogers’ six principles of learning readiness. I am reminded of the the importance of childhood play, discovery, creativity and imagination. ​​Another show highlight are the catchy strategy songs that introduce the preschool set to social/emotional themes: feelings, confidence, new experiences, self control, responsibility and kindness. We enjoy listening to the songs in the car and at home while we play.  Sometimes I find myself humming the songs throughout the day and I have spent several sleepless nights with the songs playing over and over in my head!

Meeting Daniel Tiger
Last week I felt like I was living in a real life musical. Not a bad place to be since I absolutely adore Broadway theater! It all began while I was preparing breakfast. My mini me peered up at me and sang, “When you wait, you can sing, play or imagine anything.” A song she learned from watching Daniel Tiger! I was impressed that she was singing the song at the appropriate time and she didn’t miss a single lyric. Since it was Saturday, Daddy was home and he joined his girls in building a huge castle out of blocks. That’s when we heard her sweet voice sing, “I like to be with my family. Family time is special.” When she tried to use the potty she belted out, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.” And when it was time to clean up before bed she sang, “Clean up, pick up, put away, clean up everyday!” Although she did a better job singing than picking up any of her toys, it was clear she was learning a lot from watching Daniel Tiger and his friends. 

Our neighborhood trolley!
In late August the Saint Charles County Library System sponsored a special story time and trolley ride with Daniel Tiger. Lillian was thrilled to meet Daniel Tiger and I was pleased to see my daughter enjoy something I adored as a child. It was an exciting day in our neighborhood and we made a special memory this neighbor will never forget!