(Photo by Leonna Heuring, Staff)
SIKESTON -- As next month's 25th anniversary of the Parents as Teachers approaches, local parent educators continue to get the word out about the program designed to give children the best possible start in school.
"Everyone's born to learn, and everyone has a certain degree of ability, but you have to be able to nurture and bring them up to the point where everyone is equal or above," said Judy Armstrong, parent educator for Sikeston R-6 Schools. "Then you have a good base for learning."
Monday marked the first time 2-year-old Barrett Stokes of Sikeston set foot in a library. He attended the afternoon session of Sikeston R-6 PAT group meeting at Sikeston Public Library with his mother, Nicki Stokes. There, Barrett listened to a story about monsters, participated in a group sing-a-long with other children his age and also made crafts. He also received a free book before he left the one-hour meeting.
"I think it's great. It gives them something to do with other kids," Stokes said about the program.
Stokes also has a 5-year-old son, who participated in PAT.
"He loved it," Stokes said as she helped Barrett with his art project.
PAT benefits a child by offering parents developmental information regarding their child's language, social, motor and cognitive development.
"The research has shown of the children who participate in PAT, their scores are higher coming into school, and they are ready for school if you do all the visits and do all the goals that you set with them and keep the milestones from newborn to 36 months of age,"Armstrong said.
Another study shows the combination of participating in PAT and attending preschool leads to a child's higher level of academic performance throughout school, Armstrong said.
"The parents teach their children before they ever get to school," Armstrong said.
An international organization, PAT is a voluntary-based program designed for the expectant parent and for the child age birth to 5 years. Families with children age newborn to 3 years are offered monthly home visits and invited to group meetings. Children ages 3 to 5 years are also invited to group meetings.
Andrea Story, parent educator for Charleston R-1, said the district's program started "Fun Fridays," where for one hour, parents can come and play with their children in the PAT room.
"They can bring other people with them who have kids, too. We have stations set up," Story said. "Some of our families don't have resources when it comes to toys and we have those in the preschool room so they get to come in and use our resources."
While home visits are for one-on-one evaluations, the group meetings offer social interaction and educational resources for parents, Story said.
"PAT, as a whole, is such a great tool because we serve the parent from the time they're pregnant and all the way through when the child starts school. We offer information on any topic and they are our children's first teachers, and that's why it's so important -- and its free," Story said.
The parent educators said it can be challenging to get parents to participate in home visits and/or group meetings. To increase participation, Story said she will visit homes in the evening and is considering offering group meetings on the weekends.
Cheri Klipfel, parent educator/coordinator for Kelly School District in Benton, said it's challenging to get people to come to the monthly group meetings, which are usually held in the evenings.
"Our school is so rural and everybody has to drive late at night," Klipfel said about the group meetings. However, story hours which are conducted monthly from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the school are well attended, she said.
PAT educators also stress immunizations and health safety issues, Armstrong said. Although they don't diagnose children, parent educators can refer children for testing if they suspect something is wrong, she said. PAT also offers annual screenings for children.
Jenny Hobeck, Sikeston Kindergarten Center principal and former PAT director, said the program is a great way for individuals to enhance their parenting skills.
"So many children lack vocabulary and language skills (when they begin kindergarten,)" Hobeck said. "PAT helps parents build on their strengths to prepare their children for school and allows them to keep doing a great job."
Want to join your local Parents as Teachers organization? Contact the school district you live in at the appropriate phone number listed below.