No child’s play: program enhances early development
Parents as Teachers coordinator honored with national award
One-year-old Tarah Tavis is having the time of her life: she's the sole focus of attention for four adults in the room, has plenty of neat stuff to play with and camera flashes keep producing rambunctious, jovial smiles.
She's in heaven. Little does the infant baby-girl know that she's actually the subject of what amounts to a school yard prank: the time she's spending with the adults is more study hall than recess.
Tarah is the subject of a developmental screening through the Parents as Teachers program, a program helping parents discover more effective parenting techniques while monitoring and enhancing their children's development.
On this day Tarah is the subject of a home visit where the infant's progression in areas such as problem solving, fine motor skills, muscle movement and language development is mapped, plotted and recorded.
The visit is one way the Parents as Teachers program and parents themselves can spot potential developmental problems and stimulate brain activity at an early age.
Here, giant leaps are made literally through tiny steps.
"(The home visits) make sure there aren't any red flags there," said Jacki Himpel, Parents as Teachers coordinator for the Basehor-Linwood School District.
"It's really important to catch any delays early," she added. The Parents as Teachers program is coordinated through the Northeast Kansas Education Service Center and in Basehor-Linwood and it can serve up to 63 families.
It is funded partially through the school district and is highly regarded, considered a valuable commodity in early childhood education.
"We consider it very valubale," Superintendent Cal Cormack said. "Spending money at that early age, from a dollars and cents perspective, helps tremendously later on.
"Dollars spent at that level are dollars well spent," he added.
Research indicates children learn more in their early years than any period in life. The Parents as Teachers program moves forward with that concept and diagnoses a child's development through small, almost menial activities.
On this day, Himpel learns Tarah is inquisitve, as the baby crawls toward Himpel's toy bag.
"It's good, she's curious and wants to investigate," Himpel said.
Watching Tarah pick up a pen and enjoy scribbling on a notepad, Himpel learns Tarah is a fairly typical child.
"Kids at this age like to do repetitive things, something they can do over and over," Himpel said.
Wrapping up the visit, Himpel reassures Tarah's mother, Lori, that her daughter is a normal, well-adjusted child.
"She passed and everything is where it needs to be," said Himpel as Tarah placed a Cheerio ring into a small glass container, another exercise measuring motor skills.
And if anyone's word should be taken as the gospel concerning child development, it's Himpel's.
Himpel recently received news she is one of five people nationally awarded as a 2003 Parent Educator of the Year. The Basehor-Linwood School Board will honor Himpel during its meeting Monday, April 14.
She has been a parent educator for the last 10 in the Basehor-Linwood School District. The program has been in the district for 13 years.
Tavis, who has trusted Himpel with mapping the development of two of her older children, wrote Himpel a letter of recommendation for the award.
Janet Crow, the Parents as Teachers coordinator for the Northeast Kansas Education Service Center, also wrote Himpel a letter of recommendation.
"Jacki is one of those everyday heroes, making a difference for families and children as she quietly goes about her work as a Parents as Teachers parent educator," Crow said. "For the last 10 years she has been sitting on floors, smiling as a baby spits up on her, cleaning up after one more play group, fighting for the best interests of the parents and children she serves and sharing families' joys and concerns."
The visit with Tarah is concluding and at the right time: after 35 minutes of tasks, the toddler is losing focus. She just ate the Cheerio and is now playfully smiling for the attention of the adults.
Although she's not yet walking, the one-year-old gets around just fine by crawling or grasping on furniture. Himpel reassures Tavis that the toddler will probably start walking soon; infants who aren't walking by 16 months of age raise a concern but Tarah, it seems, is right on pace.
The Basehor-Linwood School Board recently expanded the Parents as Teachers program to include more families.
The program offers more than just home visits; included with the program are playgroups, developmental screenings and resource networks, where parents can find services in the community.
"If (a developmental problem is) caught early enough, it doesn't take long to catch them back up," Himpel said.
Anyone interested in signing their children up should contact the School District office at (913) 724-1396 or Himpel at (913) 724-2792.
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