As a brand new parent, it sometimes felt to Julianne Fowler like there were “a billion questions.”
After hearing from a friend about Parents as Teachers, Fowler decided to sign her daughter, Willa, and their family up for the program. From there, she was connected with multiple resources and a Parent Educator to help answer those questions.
Whether she was wondering about watching developmental milestones, or how to help her child with sleeping, eating, or learning while playing – there were people to help Fowler be the best parent she could be.
“It is so comforting to know that help is there when we need it,” Fowler shared. “It connects you with someone who doesn’t have any bias who is there to help you as a parent.”
Parents as Teachers is a national program that promotes early development, learning, and the health of children by supporting and engaging parents and caregivers. It’s a free resource available to all families who live in the Shawnee Mission School District who have new babies or young children. From pregnancy to age 5, families who live in the SMSD are able to enroll in the program. Parent Educators are continuing to provide resources and engage families in a virtual setting.
Janet Cody is one of those educators. She first connected with the program as a parent, when raising her now-adult child, and later became a Parent Educator. Cody regularly meets with families during home visits.
“It provides a uniquely personal and unbiased partner who is grounded in research-based information,” Cody said.
Like all Parent Educators, she also provides ideas for activities that encourage learning and developmental growth. For example, for an 8-14-month old, parents can read to their child and also use reading time to begin to allow the child to select a book and practice turning pages to strengthen motor skills. Families can roll a ball with a child of this age to give a baby exercise and motor practice and also help a young baby develop the social-emotional and interpersonal skill of taking turns.
During a home visit, along with sharing resources and ideas, it’s typical for Cody to ask parents questions about their child’s development, strengths they have, ways to enhance learning, and talk about anything that is impacting their child.
“We want to help parents explore their roles and be the best parent they can be,” Cody said.
Throughout the pandemic, Shawnee Mission parent educators have continued to meet with families online and provide ideas and resources via virtual visits. Even virtually, visits have helped boost confidence parent Aimee Hanan said.
She has recommended the Parents as Teachers to friends who have young children. The wealth of resources and unintimidating approach and experience of parent educators made it a comfortable experience, Hanan noted.
When health conditions allow, Parents as Teachers also provides a play center, opportunities to connect with more parents and interactive and informational events.
Their parent educator and PAT resources helped them learn about ways to help her child Mathilda communicate.
“It helped from the first visit,” Hanan added. “I had no idea to expect the absolute wealth of knowledge. They fully support parents. It has helped us build our confidence as parents and has given us so many ideas. We highly value the program and hope people will check it out.”