Children whose parents read to them daily are more likely to have higher reading scores at kindergarten, third- and fourth-grade levels, according to Kansas School Readiness Data.
“Being read to, even as an infant but definitely as a toddler, is the greatest indicator of school success,” said Susie Kliewer, coordinator and parent educator for Parents as Teachers in Marion County.
“We have a lending library, so most families get new books every month,” she said.
Providing books is just one of the learning activities Kliewer and other parent educators can offer when they conduct their regular personal visits with families participating in PAT, a countywide program that is part of the national organization.
“Any family with a child under 36 months is eligible to be served in the county,” Kliewer said. “Of course, we don’t have person-power to work with every family, but all families are eligible.”
In Kansas, 35 percent of PAT funding is from the state, while the other 65 percent must be a local match, Kliewer said.
Marion County’s five school districts provide the local match for PAT.
“School districts are assessed a certain amount based on the percentage of students in their district,” Kliewer said, adding that boards of education value the advantages PAT can give to children.
The target percentage of children PAT serves needs to match the percentage of students in the county’s school districts.
“For example, since Hillsboro has the highest percentage of children, we would serve more Hillsboro families,” she said.
But while the district in which they live determines the percentage of who PAT serves, Kliewer said “it doesn’t determine how many we serve.”
Kliewer, who completed her first year with PAT in June, is joined by three other parent educators: Becky Suderman since 2008, Patty Traxon since 2013 and Brandi Hein since 2015.
Home visits make up a considerable amount of a parent educator’s workload.
“That’s the part of our job that we really enjoy,” Kliewer said.
Families receive one or two home visits, depending on their needs, she said. Needs vary, such as a child’s development, family dynamics, economic hardships or other stressful factors. Scheduling can also affect how often visits happen.
Suderman said the educators can adapt the curriculum provided by the national office to the different families and situations encountered.
“As far as how many (families) educators can serve, it kind of depends on how many hours you work,” Kliewer said. “And we all work different amounts of hours, (which are determined) by choice, and funding has to be there as well.”
Visits usually last from 45-60 minutes for one child, and 60-75 for two, Kliewer said.
Preliminary planning for home visits involves choosing appropriate activities and deciding what educators intend to talk about, Kliewer said.
Because the goal is to have the parents play with the child, parent/child interaction is one topic educators address at each visit.
“This will be some kind of homemade activity based on the development of the child,” she said.
Kliewer demonstrated Chips in a Can, an activity geared for 14- to 24-month-olds.
“It’s focused on problem solving and eye-hand coordination, motor and cognitive skills,” she said.
The activity is made from recyclables—a plastic container with a lid that has a slot cut out. The chips are small metal lids with stickers on both sides.
Identifying the pictures on the coins can be used to help develop the child’s language skills. It also can help children learn how to grasp and release by dropping the coins into the container.
“This particular game is a favorite,” Kliewer said. “It covers so many (skills),”
Educators bring handouts pertaining to the activity, the child’s development, extra activities and other pertinent information.
They also focus on developmental parenting during their visits.
“We can pick a topic—there’s any number of ways you can go with that,” Kliewer said. “The curriculum has tons of handouts that we can print off the computer and talk about it.”
Topics could include discipline, child temperament or family well-being, she said.
Suderman said educators view themselves as resources and encouragers for parents.
“The parents really should be the ones planning the visit because they are the parents,” she said. “The whole point of Parents as Teachers, ‘We aren’t the teachers; you are, mom.’ We’re just here to help you.”
Most months PAT sponsors organize group connections for families that are held around the county.
Big Truck Night is the one people around here are familiar with, Kliewer said.
Other events have been BlockFest that provided stations with interactive math and science learning activities, PJ Reading at local libraries, Daddy Olympics and the annual trip to the Sedgwick County Zoo, where PAT receives a group discount that families can use.
“These events are open to the community, not just Parents as Teachers,” Kliewer said.
PAT conducts yearly and as needed in-home screenings for the child.
“Screenings are all based on age,” Kliewer said. “They cover developmental areas, plus vision and hearing.”
When needed, PAT makes referrals to the Marion County Early Intervention Services for further screening, she added.
Kliewer said PAT educators also connect families to different resources available in the county, such as assistance with food, financial needs, housing and health.
A primary role for PAT is to support parents as they prepare their children for success in school and in life.
“We want to help you (as parents) to be your child’s first and best teacher,” Kliewer said.