Because 90 percent of the brain is developed by age 5, with the majority of development occurring between birth and age 3, Parents as Teachers, a national organization, is working with parents to provide information, support and encouragement to childhood development during the early years of life.
Kansas currently ranks second in the nation with the number of PAT programs available. Marion County’s program is counted in those numbers.
“It is something we have to be proud of in our state,” said Lori Soo Hoo, coordinator and parent educator for the Marion County program.
Marion County program
Soo Hoo said the Marion County Parents as Teachers program began with the first Kansas State PAT grant written in July 2002.
Before that, Unified School Districts 410, 408 and 397 were partially served by the Herington PAT, and the wait list was long.
Because they recognized the importance of early childhood education and the benefits of the PAT program, the Marion County Early Childhood Task Force chose to implement its own countywide program, Soo Hoo said.
“Research shows that targeting children when they’re between the ages of birth and 3 promotes school readiness once they enter kindergarten,” Soo Hoo said.
“Families who participate in Parents as Teachers tend to be families that are more involved in school later on,” she added. “Their children tend to have more literacy experiences in the home, they score higher on reading readiness tests once they’re given in school, they have a higher rate of being able to problem solve.
She said the families also have fewer disciplinary issues, lower instances of child abuse and neglect, lower instances of needing special education later on down the line.
The Marion County PAT program currently serves 84 families countywide, reaching 116 children. The caseload in the county is divided by percentage according to each school district’s full-time equivalency ratio.
“Right now, when we have an opening—which means a child has graduated or they’ve moved away—our current system is we have five separate wait-lists, one for each school district that we serve in Marion County,” Soo Hoo said.
Ideally, Hillsboro makes up 30 percent of the PAT caseload, Marion 29 percent, Peabody-Burns 17 percent, Centre 12 percent and Goessel 12 percent.
“We determine who comes off of the wait-list next, which school district, based on the school district that is most under-served by percentage.”
The program currently has 34 families on the wait-list—31 from the Hillsboro district, the most over-served school district by percentage.
The most under-served districts by percentage are Goessel and Peabody-Burns.
Because of the need to expand, the USD 410 Board of Education recently voted to authorize the request for additional funding as well as to add an additional parent educator to the current staff of three.
“We’re still working out timelines because we have to think about when can we get people to training and that type of thing,” Soo Hoo said. “So I don’t have a starting date, but we’re working on it.
“(Another parent educator) won’t take away from our work load, but it will add so we can eliminate a wait-list.”
The Parents as Teachers program is comprised of four basic components: personal visits, group meetings, screenings and a resource network.
Personal visits. Soo Hoo said personal visits are at the core of the PAT program.
“Throughout the visit, we’re building rapport with the family,” she said.
With caseloads divided between the three parent educators, families involved in the program can expect one visit per month, with the visit working around their schedules.
The educators are available to work weekdays, weeknights and the occasional weekend, Soo Hoo said.
During home visits, the parent educators use the Born to Learn curriculum to share age-appropriate child development information with the parents, to address parenting concerns and to help engage families in activities that provide parent/child interaction.
“We bring a bag of activities for the family and they relate to each month of development,” Soo Hoo said. “Our curriculum is very developmentally appropriate and it’s all based on current brain research—how a child’s brain is growing and learning each month along the way.”
Soo Hoo said another important aspect of home visits is helping parents understand they don’t need fancy toys for their child to learn.
During each visit, the educator brings materials for the parents to make a homemade toy that is left with the child.
“We do make a lot of homemade toys that highlight a specific discussion point from what researchers know about how the child’s brain is learning,” Soo Hoo said.
Group meetings. Group meetings occur monthly and focus on a variety of parent information and child/parent interaction.
They are available to all families with children from birth to age 3, even if they aren’t a part of PAT.
The group meetings alternate between parent/child events and parent informational nights.
“We have more parent/child interaction group events than just parent information,” Soo Hoo said.
Examples of parent/child events include the annual Marion County Big Truck Night, Book Buddies as well as zoo trips.Parent information nights include such topics as nutrition and temper-tantrums.
The topics chosen for the parent information nights are developed through parental interest, Soo Hoo said.
“One of our goals is that Marion County Parents as Teachers would continue to offer group events that are based on parents’ needs and interest,” Soo Hoo said.
Screenings. Another important element to the program is screenings—both informal and formal. Parent educators perform informal screenings at each home visit, Soo Hoo said.
“Each month we have informal milestone sheets that we fill out based on our own observations as well as what the family shares with us,” she said.
Once a year, around the child’s birthday, formal screenings are conducted using the Denver II screening tool, the same tool as used by Early Intervention, Soo Hoo said. The formal screenings also cover hearing and vision checks as well as a health assessment.
According to Soo Hoo and the PAT informational sheet, research shows that children with developmental needs who are identified early through screenings and receive special education require less special education funding for services in elementary school.
Resource network. Through resource networking, PAT is able to help families identify and connect with needed resources in order to overcome barriers.
“One of the things that I think is really something to be proud of in our county is the amount of resources that we have here,” Soo Hoo said.
“If families are needing support in the area of financial assistance, we are able to connect them with local ministerial alliances or communities in schools funding.”
In addition to financial resources, parents can also receive additional help for behavioral problems or other various issues.
“If they’re needing some additional help with behavioral challenges with their child, we can connect them with free consultation services through Prairie View,” Soo Hoo said.
As with the group meetings, the resource network is available to help all families, not just those receiving home visits from parent educators.
In addition to the four-part model for PAT success, the organization is mission-oriented, focusing on information, support and encouragement for parents.
“The overall mission,” Soo Hoo said, “is to provide the information, support and encouragement that all families need to help their children develop optimally during the crucial early years of life.
“But also making sure that all children in Marion County learn, grow and develop to realize their full potential.”
The information is delivered to parents in the form of the Born to Learn curriculum.
“(PAT) provides the information—the tools (parents) need to be able to see how their child’s brain is learning and growing—and provide opportunities for their child in their home environment for them to continue to learn,” Soo Hoo said.
Parent educators are also trained to provide support and encouragement for parents.
“It can be a very lonely job being a parent—a very hard job, a very tiring job, and a very rewarding job at the same time,” Soo Hoo said. “We’re there each month to provide that encouragement.”
For more information on Parents as Teachers, contact Soo Hoo at 947-4041 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.