By Angela

Angela as a Parent Educator/
Program Coordinator

Beginning of February, 2004 – Fifteen minutes until the “Hurricane Hits”. That was the code Angela and Lori used for 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. They looked over the classroom to make sure everything was in place for today’s playgroup. The infant area had toys for 3 month-old-Lydia and some rolling toys to encourage reaching and crawling for 8-month-old Sarah and 14-month-old Ben who had gross motor delays. Copies of an article about why it is not good for children to sit in the W-position sat on top of the diaper changing table shelf. This was a follow-up on a discussion that emerged from last week’s playgroup among Angela and a few of the parents.

The book area contained a few books that Lori and Angela selected specifically for the interests of the 8 children aged 3 months to 5 years who came to Tuesday playgroups. For two of the 2-year-old boys who showed very little interest in books, Angela put out the book, Hi, Pizza Man!, along with a door bell prop to be used with parent supervision. She also planned to read this book to the entire group towards the end of snack time, demonstrating how to use some interactive materials that she developed for use with the book. Next week she would provide a packet for parents who would like to make their own interactive book as a way of encouraging an early interest in books.

The pretend play kitchen area was equipped with pizza-related items: small cardboard pizza boxes filled with toy pizza slices, laminated menus with pictures of toppings followed by the printed word, a couple of aprons with pockets equipped with paper and crayon to take orders, little dishes, placemats made from a pizza fabric that Angela found. Two infant chairs (seats 6” from the floor) were added to three preschool-sized chairs around the table for the young toddlers who were showing interest in the kitchen area. Next week Angela would put out a pattern for a homemade felt pizza.

Warm water colored with blue food coloring filled the sensory table. Although it was the dead of winter, Angela liked to do a couple of summer-themed playgroups to break up the winter humdrums for the parents and kids; it gave them a lift, too. Brightly colored squirt fish, plastic turtles and yellow ducks were floating in the water, along with 4 fishing nets and 4 clear plastic cups to either put the animals in or have an appropriate place to squirt the water. Four waterproof aprons hung next to the water table to communicate the number of play spaces available at the water table – if you weren’t wearing an apron, you needed to find another place to play!

White paper plates, yellow crayons, wooden tongue depressors and tape sat on the craft table. The children loved a song called Mr. Sun that was often sung during song time to help the children and others learn names. Angela used a large laminated Mr. Sun prop which the children took turns holding as their name was sung to: “Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on (child’s name).” Four very active, persistent boys in the playgroup were going through the “terrific, but sometimes terrible twos.” Turn taking was a skill they were still working on as well as testing limits. To reduce some of the conflict that was bound to occur, Angela thought it might help if each child had their own Mr. Sun which they made with their parent and did not have to share.

Angela placed two black reels in the large motor area. The children could roll them to their parent or catch them. There would be enough stimulation going on with the water table, so today they would keep the large motor area simple.

While Lori, the educational aide, prepared the trays with snacks and small pitchers of water, Angela looked over the songs she had prepared for song time and made sure she had the appropriate props, tapes and records needed. Everything was there and ready to go – the jingle blanket (2 sheets decorated and sewn together with bells inside), parachute, box of cluster bells, cassette recorder cued up to the song Pause, and the baby chick finger puppets.

Lori went to the door to welcome the parents and children as they arrived. Angela waited in the classroom. Lori was an educational aide and Angela parent educator/program coordinator for the Teach Me To Learn (TMTL) program in Chandler School District. TMTL was a parent education/early childhood program that the school district offered free of charge to any parent who lived in the district and was either pregnant or had a child under the age of 3 years. The goal of the program was to help parents understand and support their child’s development during the first 3 years of life – the period of time when they were learning the most, but a time in which very few supports were built in for children and parents. This was primarily accomplished through monthly home visits, but the program also offered some other services for the parents who were enrolled – weekly playgroups, a monthly class offered to classes of pregnant & parenting teens at the high school, occasional parenting classes or parent-child programs offered to all parents in the community, and a newsletter of articles and events which came out about 3 times/year.

In order to qualify for most free services, there had to be something “wrong” with either the parent or the child. Teach Me To Learn (TMTL) was unique because the only other requirement besides living in the school district was the desire to understand and support your child’s development. The hope was to help parents ensure that children entered school ready to learn at their fullest potential. Staff conducted periodic developmental screenings, connected families whose children had developmental concerns to appropriate services. They also helped families and children transition to the school’s preschool and kindergarten programs.

Today’s playgroup consisted of 8 parents and 13 children; children ranged from 3 months to 5 years old. Most of the parents were stay-at-home moms. One was a dad who brought his 14-month-old daughter to playgroup whenever his wife, a neurologist, was on call. Most of the children were typically developing, 3 were gifted or at least well beyond what other children their age were doing, 2 children had some speech delays, and 1 child had gross motor delays. Ten children were boys; eleven children were over 18 months; 7 children were in the classic “terrible twos” phase.

Why was this information important? Survival! Pure unadulterated survival! There’s a saying that goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Conducting successful playgroups with young children was not a matter of putting out a few toys and sitting back to enjoy adult conversation and companionship for 1 ½ hours. Necessary ingredients included the ability to: set up a safe yet stimulating environment and activities for a wide range of developmental interests and needs; anticipate probable scenarios of what’s likely to happen and have a plan of action if it does; work effectively with both children and adults; carry on a conversation while constantly scanning the entire room at the same time; change your focus within a split second, tolerate crying, temper tantrums & chaos; and leap up from sitting on a chair 6” from the ground in a single bound to set firm yet positive, caring limits.

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Playgroup was over, the room cleaned and toys disinfected and put back into place – ready for Thursday’s group. While eating lunch, Angela looked over her agenda for this afternoon’s staff meeting.

The Spring newsletter was due out in a month. Does anyone have ideas for helpful articles? What issues are families dealing with during home visits? Did anyone attend any interesting workshops or read a good article?

Playgroups & community programs – What special programs should we offer to the community? What kinds of themes would be fun for the children and families in the playgroups?

End of Year evaluations – Everyone needs to begin filling out a self evaluation and schedule an appointment with Angela to conduct a home visit evaluation sometime in March.

Home visit logs and program statistics are due by the 15th of the month.

Elena – How are the home visits going with the Hispanic families?

Mackenzie – How are things going over at the high school? What is the topic for the next for the pregnant and parenting teens guest lecture?

National Teach Me To Learn conference – Angela was invited to do a workshop on teaching parents of babies and young children sign language through singing. Did Karyn have any sign language stories to share from home visits or Thursday’s playgroup that would be interesting to include?

Two more families enrolled in the program. Does anyone have any openings?

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End of February, 2004 – Angela and her staff anxiously sat around the large conference table in the Superintendent’s office. Their program was the first in the school district to meet with Superintendent Harlow and Dr. Jordan from the Human Resource office.

“There’s no easy way to say this. As you know, the deficit in our current budget necessitates that we cut several million dollars over the next few years. Because the Teach Me To Learn program is not a service we are required to provide, it is one of the first things to be cut,” said Harlow. “Dr. Jordan is here to go over some specifics regarding personnel issues over the next few months, but before she does, I have something I would like to say to all of you.”

“As you know, I am a big fan of your program and, in fact, was instrumental in bringing it to our district. You have done a great job over the past 11 years. Parents and children really love your program. This program and staff have been very creative and innovative. You have one of the best newsletters in the district. You not only promote good relations and positive feelings between families and our schools, you’ve helped children and families come to our schools ready to learn at their highest potential. Your performance and the value of the program have nothing to do with why your jobs are being eliminated.”

© Angela Cramer, 2008

Photo: © Angela Cramer, 2008

Clipart on this page is the property of Jupiterimages made available through
subscription: © Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008 www.clipart.com

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