Program takes early education home to parents

Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015 2:08 pm

By NICOLE CARTRETTE Morning News This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dulce Cruz wants to be a good mother.

Two days a month she welcomes a child development specialist into her home to offer parenting advice, discuss developmental milestones and talk about ways to boost learning at home for her daughter , Odaray, who is 18 months old .

The first-time mother and her husband, Sergio, have been finding extra parenting support and advice from the Parents as Teachers program since Odaray was 3 months old.

The early learning initiative is offered by the Start Smart/ early childhood education component of Florence School District One.

The program comes at no cost to participants and is open to pregnant mothers or those with children up to age 3 .

Cruz, a graduate of West Florence High School, said her little sister benefited from a similar early education experience.

“I saw that she did well in school,” Cruz said.

Wanting the best for Odaray, Cruz said , she decided to participate in the program. As a first-time mom at 19-years old, Cruz has lots of questions.

She is not afraid to look up information or talk to family but she thinks the extra source of support is helpful.

“I look up things on websites,” Cruz said, adding that she recently asked herself: “O K , when am I supposed to start potty training?”

“She has already learned so much,” Cruz said, adding that her daughter looks forward to visits with their home visitor, Melanie McMillan.

McMillan is a supervisor for the program. She makes home visits but also observes five other parent educators who provide services to a total of 127 families in Florence One.

McMillan said at the heart of the curriculum is the idea that all parents, regardless of personal circumstances, can be empowered, gain control over difficult circumstances, and interact with their children in a way that facilitates healthy development.

The ultimate goal is to help children learn, grow and develop to their full potential.

“The early years of life are so crucial,” McMillan said.

Parent educators, like McMillan, build on a parent’s strengths with an emphasis on the latest research about child development and early learning. They model best practices in interacting with children and open the door for parents to become the teachers.

“I want you to color with her,” McMillan told Cruz during a home visit this week. She demonstrated ways to capture the excited and busy Odaray’s attention.

McMillan also brought a book for Odaray . McMillan read each sentence of the short, colorful book in English while Cruz repeated her words in Spanish.

During the visit, Cruz and McMillan also talked about potty training and motor skills and how Cruz’s part-time tutoring endeavors were going.

Part of the Parent as Teachers philosophy is that family well-being is as important as development-centered parenting and parent-child interaction.

“We help the parent as well as the child,” McMillan said. “A lot of parents just don’t know about child development or what to expect. We help the parent, model for the parent and guide them.

“We let the parent know what things they can be doing with their child right now, at home, before they get to school.”

McMillan said some children come to pre-K lacking a lot of basic things that could be taught at home.

“Some are ready and some are not ready,” she said.

“Our job is to go in to make sure that the parent is working with the child. If the child has a delay we will pick up on it,” McMillan added. “We can offer referrals to try to get the child help. We might find a child who may need speech therapy. Sometimes we may run into a 3- year - old that can only make sounds and not speak words. We get that intervention in the home before the child gets to school.”

Preschool teachers can tell the difference, she said.

“They can tell that we have been working with them. We follow … (children in the program) from the time we have them all the way through school,” McMillan said.

The results are promising.

“They do very well,” she said.

Participation in Parents as Teacher is not income based. It is available to people who live in the school district.

“We definitely have available space,” McMillan said.

Pregnant mothers and parents of child up to 3 years old can participate in the program. All participants need to commit to two home visits per month. For more information contact the Florence One Office for School Readiness at 673-1129.

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