Like many of the sites funded by the Sixpence Early Learning Fund, the Plattsmouth Early Childhood Center offers parenting classes and home visitation through the Parents as Teacher program. Home visitation is a crucial component to strengthening families that is often overlooked and misunderstood.
The core values of the Parents as Teacher home visitation program:
- Parents are their children’s ﬁrst and most inﬂuential teachers.
- The early years of a child’s life are critical for optimal development and provide the foundation for success in school and in life.
- Established and emerging research should be the foundation of parent education and family support curricula, training, materials and services.
- All young children and their families deserve the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of any demographic, geographic or economic considerations.
- An understanding and appreciation of the history and traditions of diverse cultures is essential in serving families.
Amy Shook, the home visitation professional at the Plattsmouth program, shared some of her experiences. Each story underscores how important home visitation is in supporting the parents to become successful teachers to their children.
What a home visit looks like
Typically, says Amy, a home visit is, “me and the parent and children sitting on the floor engaged in activities that help the child learn.” Amy talks with parents about why the activity is important and how it helps the child learn. She teaches the family about how the brain development between birth and age 3 lays the foundation for all future learning. “We also talk about discipline and potty training and nutrition,” said Amy.
One of the most common areas where parents need help is language development. “Most parents instinctively know to talk with their babies, but they don’t necessarily know why,” said Amy. “Some parents don’t have that instinct,” said Amy. This is particularly true in families at risk, when the parents may not have had such communication from their own families.
In the Plattsmouth program, most families who participate in home visitation do so voluntarily, Amy said. “A lot of them come to me from word of mouth.”
The first step in building a home visitation relationship is to get to know each other. Amy said that it takes some time to get to know the family before she really know what they need to work on. The success stories Amy shared with us emphasize this point: home visitation is all about individual, one-on-one counseling of the family. And it’s that customized approach that makes all the difference.
From police referral to healthy parenting.
One of Amy’s families came to her through a police referral, because of possible abuse in the home. Although the children hadn’t yet been removed from the home, Child Protective Services was very involved. Amy worked with this family for a year and a half. Much of the counseling focused on positive discipline techniques, sending time being fully engaged with the child and play skills.
When this family enrolled, the child had just been born. “At the child’s last parent-child interaction assessment, she had a PERFECT score, “ Amy said. The family is no longer working with CPS and Amy says they’re doing really well. “Mom was the biggest difference,” said Amy.” She knows how to engage with her child, how to be positive, how to develop confidence in her child, and how to discipline.” Though it took plenty of time and work on Amy’s part to get this family involved, the results have been worth it.
From plugged in to fully engaged
When Amy started working with this single mom and her kids, she thought, “Man, I have my work cut out for me.” When Amy would arrive for their home visits, Mom would be on her computer or on the phone or yelling at the neighbors . . . doing everything but interacting with her kids.
One thing Mom did have going for her was persistence and a desire to learn. “She made her home visit every week. That was huge,” said Amy. In the end, Mom was on the floor every week playing with her kids, fully engaged. Even after her time with Amy had passed, Mom decided she was going to keep the new tradition going by scheduling her own Parents as Teachers sessions so she wouldn’t get out of the habit.
Empowering moms as babies learn
While the main goal of the Parents as Teachers program is to support parents to become loving teachers so their children can have better lives, often the result is that the mother feels empowered to provide a better life for her kids in other powerful ways.
One story that Amy shared is about a stay-at-home-mom who graduated from the program last year. “She told me that after she’d learned so much about brain development, she was inspired to go to school to be a teacher,” said Amy. That mother is now enrolled in Bellevue’s teaching program and is doing great on the road to being able to independently provide for her kids.
One the teenage mothers Amy worked with finished high school and enrolled in college to study nursing, despite becoming a mother while in high school. Her son is now one year old.
Another young woman, who had her baby when she was just a junior in high school, was prepared to drop out of school so she could stay home with her baby. She just couldn’t bring herself to put him in daycare. Because of the home visits, Amy had a deep understanding of the family situation. She was able to help arrange with the high school so Mom could complete her courses online from home and stay with her baby.
In the end…
Childcare and parenting classes are very important. But the home visit is key. These one-on-one, individualized training sessions allow pros like Amy to meet the parent where they are and custom-build learning that will help them become successful parents. The result? Fewer instances of abusive behavior, healthier parent/child bonds, and children who start Kindergarten ready to learn.