Imagine living hours away from family members and having questions about how to care for your newborn baby. That's why my husband and I enrolled in the Parents as Teachers (PAT) program five years ago, when our first child was 8 months old.
Parents as Teachers, a program of the Lawrence school district, provides year-round home visits by trained educators to help improve language, social, motor and thinking skills of children up to 5 years old. The program also provides play groups, group meeting and teen parent groups to help parents increase their parenting skills.
National research has shown that PAT is effective in helping parents improve their parenting skills. It is open to all parents, though there may be a waiting list to join.
Current development research emphasizes the importance of the first five years of life for a child. Researchers talk about "windows of opportunity" when activity in the brain changes the circuitry of the nervous system in a permanent way. "If those windows are missed, wiring the brain for certain jobs may happen later on only with great difficulty or may never happen at all," reported Dr. Jeff Lichtman, professor of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.
Likewise, if there is a lot of the right kind of stimulation to help a baby take advantage of those windows, there will be a greater capacity for learning and for the complex tasks later in life.
With this new understanding of the importance of the early years, parents should start as soon as possible on a program to offer the kind of stimulation and activities that help the child's brain develop to its full potential. PAT can help parents in this endeavor.
Friends of PAT is a small group of parents in Lawrence that raises funds, increases awareness and informs the community about the program. Friends of PAT has contributed money from fund-raising events to help enroll parents in the program. The next "Funraising" event by Friends of PAT will be March 27 at Wal-Mart.
Currently, PAT distributes 300 newsletters a month to parents in Lawrence. To join Friends of PAT, volunteer for fund-raising events, or purchase advertising space in the newsletter, call the PAT office, 832-5097, extension 242.
-- Jean Pfeifer is a parent in Lawrence.