Education

Parents as Teachers aims to help Kansas’ youngest students

Moms and babies attend class at Maize Early Childhood Center. The moms discussed topics form baby food to carriers. (Feb. 9, 2016)
Moms and babies attend class at Maize Early Childhood Center. The moms discussed topics form baby food to carriers. (Feb. 9, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Gabrielle loves to lie on her tummy.

Evelyn is developing a keen sense of humor, smiling and laughing all the time.

Ryker likes to babble and roll.

The babies gathered on a circle of blankets on a classroom floor at Vermillion Elementary School in Maize are among the state’s youngest students. They’re learning from their parents. And their parents, thanks to programs like Parents as Teachers, are learning from trained parent educators and one another.

All the research shows that the earlier we start working with kids, the more prepared they will be for kindergarten.

June Rempel, associate principal of the Maize Early Childhood Center

“All the research shows that the earlier we start working with kids, the more prepared they will be for kindergarten,” said June Rempel, associate principal of the Maize Early Childhood Center.

Parents as Teachers programs across the country pair parents and their young children with parent educators who guide the children’s development through home visits, play groups, developmental screenings and other activities.

There are nearly 70 Parents as Teachers programs in Kansas, including ones in the Wichita, Derby, Goddard, Maize, Haysville and Mulvane districts. Services are available to any parent – including relatives as caregivers and foster parents – who has a child under age 3 and lives within a participating school district.

Tips, personal experience

In Maize, a group for infants and their parents led by parent educator Erin White meets the first Thursday of each month. Free child care for older siblings allows parents to gather with their young babies and exchange information and advice.

At the February get-together, as part of a discussion titled “Natural Baby,” Becky Anders offered tips on how to use baby-carrying apparatus, homemade baby food, cloth diapers and essential oils.

Using her 9-month-old daughter, Evelyn, as a model, she demonstrated different styles of baby slings and carriers and talked about the advantages of each.

“I can tell you, I’ve carried her a lot,” Anders said, smiling, with Evelyn tucked into a stretchy wrap. “I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’ll carry you because you’re not going to be a baby forever.’ She loves it.”

The parents – all moms at the recent meeting – talked about various carriers and where to find them at the lowest cost. Then they shared tips for making and transporting healthy foods for their babies.

Anders said she depends on reusable, dishwasher-safe Yummi Pouches for Evelyn’s on-the-go snacks. To save time while making baby food, she said, she plops frozen fruits or vegetables directly into a food processor and purees them into a powder that thaws quickly.

“Super easy,” she said.

Becky Nolan, mother of 8-month-old Ryker, said she heard about Maize’s Parents as Teachers program and began attending the monthly infant group when her older son started preschool.

“I like the adult interaction and just learning the different new stuff,” Nolan said. “You can only read so much on the Internet. I like the personal experience you get here.”

Funding reduced

Rempel and other administrators continue to lobby state lawmakers for Parents as Teachers funding, which has been scaled back over the past several years.

Maize voters recently approved a $70.7 million bond issue that will finance a $6.7 million freestanding Early Childhood Center to house Parents as Teachers, pre-kindergarten and Starlets, a parent-child preschool program.

$6.7 millioncost of a new Early Childhood Center approved by Maize voters

“We want (Parents as Teachers) to stay for all families, because every parent needs support,” Rempel said.

What’s more, she said, the parents who spend time on the floor of a Maize classroom with their small babies become future classroom parents, site council presidents and foundation members.

“Those parents, because they got involved in the beginning and they feel supported through the schools, they stay with us and they become our supports as their children advance,” she said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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