Yankton County Parents as Teachers program is a home visitation program providing information, support and encouragement to families through home visits and classes in order to promote child development during the first three years of life. Families are asked to commit to home visits a minimum of twice monthly. The Parents as Teachers program has been in Yankton since 1995 and is an affiliate of the National Parents as Teachers program out of St. Louis.
Parent-Child Interaction is just one the three areas of emphasis at each home visit. At each visit, parents are guided through a play experience with their child. The Parents as Teachers program emphasizes that play is learning and from the time they are born they are discovering what their body can do. Every time a child plays, their brain is making new connections that help with development. Deanna Branaugh, Educator/Coordinator for the program shares that during this portion of the visit, she is guiding the parent to have fun with their child and emphasizing that there is no right way to play. “There are so many teachable moments as I encourage the parents to join in and let the child lead the way.”
A simple activity such as stacking blocks includes all five areas of development which are social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and language. Many parents many not feel comfortable with this portion of the visit as they may find it hard to play or to make silly noises or engage in dances and movement. Parents may often get bored with playing long before the child is tired of the activity. As we are all down on the floor, parents are prompted to talk with their child and allow them to try to solve problems and gain confidence as they tackle the challenges. Play does not have to include fancy toys. An empty oatmeal box with a slit in the lid works perfectly for little fingers to manipulate milk jug lids into the opening. At the end of each activity portion, parents are asked how they felt their child did with the activity as well as discussing how they might repeat a similar activity using supplies from their own home. At the end of each activity portion of our visit, parents are asked to evaluate how the child did with the activity and if they were surprised by the level of engagement. Parents are then asked how they felt they did with the play portion of their activity. Some parents will tell me that they had no idea how important it is to play and how they may love to watch their child play but didn’t realize that they should be guiding them in play or just simply getting down on the floor with them. As we work with older children, some parents want to do the project themselves (such as building a little garage for their toy cars out of a Kleenex box) as they are not quite ready for the child to work with glue and a scissor. The parent will tell me that they want it to be perfect and we discuss how hard it is to let go and let the child explore. Games are also a very important part of play as children learn to take turns, work on language and social skills. Games like Candy Land of Chutes and Ladders can work on numbers, colors, and shapes in just 15 minutes. Ralph Waldo Emerson is noted to say, “It is a Happy Talent to know how to play.” “I truly believe that this statement also applies to adults,” commented Branaugh.
Other areas of emphasis in the Parents as Teachers program is the Development Centered Parenting and Family Well-Being. Each child receives a developmental screening each year and the results can be used to focus future visits on the weaker areas or to make a referral to another agency to work on that particular delay. Encouragement of reading is part of every visit and each child receives a free age appropriate book every month. During 2016, 25 families received a total of 226 home visits. Nearly 200 books were provided to the 30 children in the program and 59 developmental screenings were conducted.
PAT is a non-profit agency and a partner agency with United Way of Greater Yankton. The primary funding support comes from United Way Community Impact Funds and also through other grants, donations from community groups and fundraising. Additional information regarding the Parents as Teachers Program can be obtained by calling Branaugh at 605-661-4833.