Parents as Teachers, an Important Early Childhood Resource

A long time ago, I thought I’d grow up to be a teacher. (And by a long time ago, I mean like seven-ish years, I was very much an adult at this point with two kids and one on the way.) To be completely honest, I was just really looking to finish a college degree. So, I went back to school and decided to work on an education degree with an emphasis in special education. I got as far as an associate degree, but to this day, I very much believe that the universe needed me to be in that field of study and here is why—My children would need me to be aware of their educational needs and be their advocate for learning. 

Here is the biggest thing I learned while studying special education: Early intervention is important and easily overlooked.

While studying education, I learned that there are programs in place, on both federal and local levels, to fund and protect early childhood education, and if necessary these programs are offered to parents at little to no cost. I was unaware that these programs existed before actually studying education. I always thought that my biggest resource for my child’s developmental progress from birth to elementary age would be their doctor. 

As my babies grew out of their infant stages, I watched for developmental milestones to be reached. They have all progressed well, and between my pediatrician and me, we have seen no obvious need for interventions. However, with each child, my husband and I have decided to be proactive in taking advantage of early childhood developmental screenings, even if we didn’t have any huge concerns. What I have learned with this approach is that as parents we can be unaware of challenges our child is facing because we have adapted in our homes to meet our child’s needs. Here is where intervention is easily overlooked.

Throughout the United States, we have a program called Parents As Teachers (PAT), you can locate your local program here based off of your area’s school district. This resource is a good place to start.

PAT was originally founded in Missouri. Through regular visits, PAT parent educators guide parents and caregivers by involving them in their child’s learning as their first teacher so they can aid in preparing their child with a readiness for learning. This program can begin as early as the prenatal stage and can last until kindergarten. Depending on your district, there may be a waitlist, so call sooner rather than later.

PAT not only looks at development through a general scope, but also addresses development in behavior, motor skills, language and communication, how well emotions are regulated, and more. The sessions are offered in many settings, including in your own home, and accommodations in relation to COVID have been made. As you and your child progress through this program, you will be given a multitude of resources from parenting approaches to learning styles; you will even have the opportunity to connect with other families. 

As each of one my four children have approached the age of 3, I have called my local PAT program to schedule a screening (though involvement with PAT can start well before age 3). If you aren’t already enrolled in PAT, you can call them and simply say that you would like to proactively have your child participate in a developmental screening. Or if you do have some concerns, you can communicate those as well.

Here is a brief look at the PAT screening process as well as a more formal early childhood evaluation.

These processes might look different due to COVID or your specific school district’s protocol. 

Typically, the process begins with questionnaires and observations. These will cover some of the developmental perspectives mentioned above. During this time, PAT will look for any concerns that are categorized as “at risk” from their observations or your input from questionnaires. If they have none, you can continue to participate in the PAT program if you wish.

If PAT has concerns, they will turn their information over to your school district for formal evaluation. This process will include a more thorough look at your child’s development. Anywhere that a developmental perspective is considered “at risk” is where testing, through observation and questionnaires, will be performed. Formal evaluation is done once a child is 3 years old, and it can take time since it may include classroom observation. These in-depth screenings are typically only done during the school year.

Once your school district will go over the results of their testing with you. At this time, your district will talk to you about any programs that your child has qualified for. These programs may be offered in an educational setting and can include specialized services such as speech, occupational, or physical therapy and may result in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

photo credit: Honey Hayes

One of the biggest early intervention benefits that I have seen our family is the early childhood classroom setting. For my family, we have had the opportunity to enroll at Great Beginnings Early Education Center in the Lee’s Summit R7 School District. This has been an amazing resource that has cost us very little. Children go to school, learn with their peers who have vary abilities and challenges (some with IEPs and some without), and come out ready for the elementary school big leagues—excited to learn and ready to grow!

The PAT parent educators and early childhood teachers in our district at Great Beginnings who have helped us along the way have been invaluable to my family. We would not be where we are without them.

I don’t know how long my kids would have struggled until we realized that they were desperate for help, or maybe they would have eventually caught up with some rough patches along the way. But the point is that we have local resources to make early learning as accessible and fun as we can, and we should make use of them

Parents as Teachers – Kansas

Parents as Teachers – Missouri

Please visit you local school district’s web page as well, or if you are not sure of which school district you live in, click here.

What early childhood resources have you used? Do you have experience with Parents as Teachers?

Hi! I'm Franchesca! I am originally from Arizona, the Phoenix area, but moved to Missouri in 2015. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done in my life, but I have absolutely fallen in love with Kansas City! I live in Lee's Summit with my husband and four boys and we have no clue what we are doing! We fly by the seat of our pants on any given day, but we are so happy here. I love learning and have a background in cosmetology. I am currently working on completing a degree at UMKC, majoring in psychology, please pray for me. As a stay-at-home mom, I spend most of my day, honestly, cleaning up messes and drinking Dr. Pepper. I love to bake, read non-textbooks, do DIY home projects, think about exercising, and binge watch TV shows. But, my favorite hobby is letting my kids run wild through the neighborhood while the adults socialize on the patio. Also tacos, I love Mexican food and tacos!