Program assists parents with early childhood development

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Parents as Teacher director Stacy Davis looks on as 2-1/2-year-old Piper James identififes the items in front of her during a home visit earlier this week.

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Parents as Teacher director Stacy Davis looks on as 2-1/2-year-old Piper James identififes the items in front of her during a home visit earlier this week.

By Rod Haxton, editor

Piper James is just like any typical 2-1/2-year-old with a younger sibling.

She likes to help her sister. Sometimes she likes to help a little too much.

With her little sister, Parker, learning to talk, Piper has been more than eager to speak for Parker as she tries to express herself. As a result, Parker’s speaking skills were developing a little more slowly than normal for a youngster her age.

With the help of Stacy Davis, coordinator for Parents as Teachers in USD 466 (Scott County), Skyler and Stephanie James had some valuable experience in getting 15-month-old Parker back on track with her speech development.

“Stacy was here to see what was happening and she gave us tips for not letting Piper do the talking for Parker,” says Stephanie. “Without Stacy’s help, we wouldn’t have seen the problem as quickly or known what steps to take.”

Stephanie has seen the importance of PAT since first enrolling Piper in the program when she was just nine-months-old.

“Until then, we didn’t know the program existed. We’d heard about it from a friend who was real impressed with their knowledge and how much it helped their kids,” says Stephanie.

Like many parents, she is concerned about the future of PAT after last week’s announcement that the state legislature was considering a $7.2 million budget cut that would essentially kill the program in Kansas. Stephanie has added her name to a Facebook petition to save the program and she’s going to contact area legislators.

“I don’t know what we’d do without Stacy. As parents, you think your kids are perfect and you don’t imagine anything being wrong,” notes James. “It takes a neutral party who knows what to look for in how your kids are developing.”

And to encourage parents to take steps in their child’s development skills.

For example, Stephanie was informed by Davis that a child should begin learning to use silverware at 12- to 14-months of age.

“We braved it with Parker yesterday,” says Stephanie with a grin. “She made a big mess with the applesauce. But it was a start.

 

It’s a step the Jameses wouldn’t have made at quite so early an age if not for Davis’ advice.

Hands-On Activities

Davis, who has been involved with PAT since its inception in Kansas in 1990, is closely connected with each of the nearly 45 families who are enrolled in PAT. She visits each home once a month and will spend an hour working on activities with youngsters and observing their skills.

In a family with two children, she will spend about 1-1/2 hours.

She brings toys and activities that are age appropriate and interacts with the youngsters. One activity involves placing five items on the floor in front of a youngster and having them identify the five. Then the youngster will cover their eyes while one item is removed. After uncovering their eyes, they must determine what item is missing.

“This is one of my favorite activities,” says Davis, who says that it helps to develop observation and memorization skills.

Once a youngster has mastered the exercise with one item removed, Davis takes it to the next step by removing two items.

“It’s a great restaurant game,” Davis points out. “It’s something you can do when you want to keep the kids occupied for a little while.”

Another activity involves placing a ticking alarm clock in a room - the degree of difficulty can change - for a child to find. While Parker began listening for the clock and trying to find where it was hidden, Stephanie said they have had concerns about her hearing.

“She’s always asking ‘What?’ so you wonder is it because she can’t hear or is she being asked something that’s too complex to process?” says Stephanie.

Davis explains that a parent can often times read a child’s body language to help determine if they have hearing concerns.

 

Developing Routines

“What I like about working with Stacy is that she has taught us things we can do on our own to help our kids,” James says.

That proved especially valuable when trying to teach Piper to get ready for bed at a regular time each evening.

“She would go to bed randomly, wake up during the night and often times end up in our bed,” Stephanie says. “We had no idea what we could do to get her used to going to bed at a regular time and staying there.”

Davis says it’s important to establish a routine. That can include a bedtime snack, bath, brushing teeth and reading a book. The process may take 3-4 weeks.

James says the strategy was effective and greatly appreciated.

“Now (Piper) says I’m ready to read a book and brush my teeth,” she notes.

PAT also helps to reinforce social skills, such as learning to take turns when doing an activity, or daily skills such as brushing teeth or washing hands.

 

Peace of Mind

Landry Beaton was in the program from birth until recently celebrating his third birthday which makes him too old to continue in PAT.

However, his parents, Aaron and Holly, appreciate how valuable PAT was in recognizing developmental steps and “giving us peace of mind.” When Landry reached the pincher-grasp stage in his development, it was Davis who pointed out this was an important step in his development.

“Any time we had concerns about his development, or questions about parenting, Stacy was a great resource,” Holly says. “And she is a different set of eyes to see things that we may not pick up on.”

Holly recalls when Landry was having trouble sleeping through the night.

“Stacy was always available to help us,” Beaton says.

 

First-Time Parent

As first-time parents, Logan and Jordan Dreiling welcome Davis’ advise and observations.

Jordan says she wasn’t even aware of PAT until visiting with a local physician during her daughter, Devon’s, six-month checkup in December. Tuesday’s home visit by Davis was the third time she had worked with Jordan and Devon.

“When you’re a first-time mom you want to take advantage of any resources available, especially when it concerns the health and development of your child,” noted Dreiling. “At this age, it seems that things happen so quickly with a child. Stacy has been real helpful in helping us to understand how she should be developing and what we should look for. It’s another resource other than a doctor or a pediatrician.”

Common issues with a child as young as Devon, notes Davis, can deal with sleep and eating.

“Every kid is different,” says Davis. “We work with enough children and we have enough research behind us that we can find something that works for a parent.”

Dreiling says the program has already benefitted Devon.

“Stacy has told me what to expect developmentally and that helps me to anticipate her needs and to better understand her moods,” Dreiling says. “I have a better understanding of things as Devon goes through her different milestones.”

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