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Teaching parents how to teach their children

All parents, regardless of income or experience, can benefit from the support given by programs such as Parents as Teachers.

The idea is to help mothers and fathers help their children learn to eat, sleep, walk, talk, read, share – any number of important developmental skills leading up to kindergarten.

“Just anything you can think of that deals with raising children,” said Julie Pierce, a parent educator with North Idaho Parents as Teachers in Coeur d’Alene.

Part of a nationwide program, Parents as Teachers also is active in Spokane, Sandpoint, Pullman, Moscow and half a dozen other cities in the Inland Northwest. The parenting services are free and are open to anyone, regardless of income. Parents can get involved as early as the prenatal stage and stay active until their child enters kindergarten, at about age 5.

North Idaho Parents as Teachers, housed in the Harding Family Center resource library, serves about 35 families and has a waiting list, Pierce said. The program includes four components: home visits; developmental screening; resources and referrals; and family fun and information meetings.

The monthly home visit lasts about an hour and includes a simple and fun activity parent and child can do together, often using materials found in the home. A zippered plastic bag filled with water and a couple of foam toys, for instance, can teach a baby perception and motor skills and cause-and-effect relationships. A plastic-foam plate, yarn and plastic needle make for a fun stitching project for a preschooler. Empty liter-sized pop bottles make great bowling pins.

The point is to show parents how to get creative and interact with their children in activities that aid development, Pierce said.

Parents also learn strategies for dealing with challenging behavior. They are encouraged, for example, to show their children what to do, rather than tell them what not to do.

“We promote positive relationships and the attachment between parent and child,” Pierce said. “We kind of celebrate what they’re doing.”

Children are screened at least once a year to check if they meet benchmarks in the development of muscles, language, intellect, social skills and emotional growth. If a child is lagging, the staff can recommend other agencies that can help.

“We help the parents learn the different developmental milestones their children go through and around what age these milestones occur,” Pierce said. “And we give them activities to help them develop those skills.”