NISD: Parents as Teachers helps children begin learning process before school
From the time a child is born to the time they enter kindergarten, children go through many experiences that affect them socially, emotionally and physically. These events shape their readiness for life and school when they are older, making it vital to give them as many opportunities as possible to excel in these aspects. That’s what the Parents as Teachers program aims to do.
Parents as Teachers is a program that is “built on relationships,” as Cynthia Elliott, program director, puts it. The program is available to children from birth to 5 years of age and is free of cost. PAT is open to any family in the district, though is especially focused on children with high-stress environments. These high-stressors can include aspects such as a death in the family, low income, chronic health issues, military deployment, foster care and many other factors that could affect a child.
Four main components drive the interactions with parents, children and parent-educators: personal visits, group connections, developmental screenings, and community resources.
“The heart of it is that it’s a home visitation program” where a parent educator visits the home of the child and parent, Ms. Elliott explained. Each personal visit has three aspects of focus. The first is parent-child interaction, which focuses on partnering with the “parent to provide support so the child grows optimally,” Ms. Elliot said. The second is developmental-centered parenting, which is going through the day-to-day routine, and the third is family well-being.
In addition to home visits, there are also group connections. These play-date-like gatherings are to give families and children a special opportunity to play and converse with others in a way that is greatly beneficial to them. “Play to learn” is one of the group connections that PAT offers, where parent-educators and parents focus on intentional play to build skills that children will need as students and in life. These play to learn slots are open to any family in the district, even for those who don’t have a parent-educator.
In addition to its parent-educator services, PAT is able to help families with development screenings. The program uses the highly reliable Ages and Stages Questionnaires screening tool to detect concerns so intervention can be made if necessary. The earlier a delay is met with intervention, the better chance a child has of overcoming it and hitting all their important milestones. PAT also acts as a connection with other community resources to give children and their families many opportunities to grow and learn.
Notable improvements have been seen with children who participate in the program. Ms. Elliott says they are more prepared for kindergarten “emotionally, socially and physically” and that they are able to enhance growth through all of these experiences.
Mallory Gallegos, a parent in the program, says she has seen her son, Isaiah, “improve in so many areas.” She added that PAT has benefitted her son’s “love for learning” and explained that he now gets excited when he recognizes stories because he’s heard them with Katy Ellis, his parent-educator.
Ms. Gallegos added that Isaiah is “always excited about what she brings” and stories are one of his favorite parts of the program.
“He’s learning that reading is fun,” she said, highlighting the program’s focus on literacy.
Although the program’s main priority is a child’s growth, it is also an excellent program for the parent and aids them in many ways as well. Mallory stated her favorite aspect of the program was the reassurance it provides.
“Whatever it is negative or positive, it’s always nice to be reassured,” Ms. Gallegos said. She said that she has “someone that’s specialized to talk to” thanks to the support of her parent-educator.