Education

Helping parents help their children reach developmental milestones

Parents and students take part in family literacy night at Lincoln Park Primary School in Pensacola, Fl. Thursday, April 23, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today)

Most people agree that early childhood education is important.

But even more important is educating parents to read and talk to their children every day from birth so that they come to school ready to learn.

The things — large and small  — that parents, caregivers and family members do at home is crucial to the academic success of their children.

Children from underserved communities know fewer words and have been read to less often than those in middle-income neighborhoods. Some parents never finished school, others have several jobs and no time to talk to their children or read to them at least 15 minutes every day. This affects the brain development necessary to prepare for success later in life, without which even early education is too late.

Parenting is difficult even in the best of circumstances, and when coupled with other stressful life situations, it becomes even more challenging.

During these times, support and assistance from others are critical. That’s why the Studer Community Institute is working to offer parents support to help develop the tools and skills to improve their children’s lives and get them ready for school and life.

As the part of my role as parent outreach coordinator, I visit and meet with various people, organizations and agencies to find the best model to reach parents and caregivers.

Last week I met with and became a member of the Community Action Program Committee Inc. Health and Education Advisory Committee.

The Advisory Committee is a consortium of some 40 agencies and organizations whose primary mission is to assist families and children and improve their quality of life.

Developing partnerships and relationships with Committee agencies including Early Head Start, Escambia Community Clinics and Nurses on Call go a long way in finding the right people and places to reach parents and their children.

In meeting with Community Drug and Alcohol Council’s Community Preventionist Medena Williams and Case Manager Jennifer Glass, I gleaned a wealth of good information on the agency’s efforts to support healthy lifestyles and make a difference.

The Incredible Years for parents of young children from 18 months to 8 years old strengthens parent-child interactions.

The Incredible Years Baby Program for parents and their infants from birth to 12 months old helps with brain development and attachment to reach development milestones.
90Works is another local agency that reaches out to assist parents and children to help in their growth and development.

Tracy Hoodles, Support Services Program Manager, walked me through the various programs 90Works offers. The home visiting program is designed to help parents be the best they can be for their babies. Resource coordinators perform assessments to determine need. Afterward, a family support worker or parent educator meets regularly with mother and child from birth up to 5 years old, using the Growing Great Kids Curriculum.

On Friday, I participated as a vendor in the Hungry for Justice Kids Cooking Class at the Fricker Center. I met with other agencies and talked with parents about the Institute’s mission to help parents of children 0 to 3 years old.

More than 100 children and parents received information and cooking demonstration using healthy recipes. They left with a tote bag stuffed with healthy food choices, including bread, salad, fruits and vegetable.

The event, sponsored by Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz Justice Foundation, is just another example of people dedicating their time, energy and effort to improve our community’s quality of life.

This week I visit daycares and Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten programs to share what we’re doing at the Institute and encourage them to become a partner in our efforts.

Among the Institute’s goals is to improve the quality of life by having children ready and prepared for school. Research consistently shows that investing in children at an early age pays off over time in a child’s life.

Unfortunately nearly a third of children — about 1,000 a year — start kindergarten unprepared both academically and socially, based on the most recent data provided by the Florida Office of Early Learning.

It’s clear that children who enter school with early skills, such as basic knowledge of math and reading, are more likely than their peers to experience later academic success.

Programs that provide structured visits by trained professionals and paraprofessionals to high-risk parents who are pregnant or have young children have shown to have lasting benefits.

Throughout Escambia County are agencies and organizations that offer services to assist young mothers and their children in their growth and development.

There are many people already doing good things in this community to help parents and children reach development milestones. At the Studer Community Institute, we want to hear more about what you’re doing to help reach and help parents and children in Escambia County.

Parents and caregivers truly are their children’s first teachers. No matter if it’s a long time away or a very short time, there are things that all parents and caregivers can do to help their children with early brain development and kindergarten readiness.

Contact me at rdogan@studeri.org or call (850) 529-6485.