This parenting stuff can get rough. Especially when magazines, mothers-in-law and mom group frenemies tell us everything we think we’re doing right is utterly wrong. It’s no wonder we feel less than confident in our parenting skills, panicked that any mistake we make now will scar our little ones for life.
But cheer up, mom and dad! You’re doing a better job than you – or any of your friendly naysayers – may think. By simply playing with your child day after day, you’re stimulating his or her development, setting the foundation for a healthy and happy life now and for years to come.
To help parents recognize their strengths in each other and themselves, Parents as Teachers (PAT) National Center, is launching What You Do Matters, a free, six-week series starting April 20 at Crestwood Community Center and a Spanish-language series starting April 9 at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester. This fun, interactive group format allows parents of kids from birth to age six to build social connections, try out parent/child activities, and increase their knowledge of supporting their children’s development.
“Through What You Do Matters, parents will walk away confident that they know where their child is supposed to be developmentally,” said Lindsey Forton, family engagement specialist for PAT. “We want families to understand and recognize they already know more than they think they do. And if they don’t know something, they can figure out how to use the information they’ve learned to talk to others about their child’s needs.”
Building on your parenting skills
What You Do Matters is divided into three parts. At the beginning of each session, facilitators lead short discussions regarding child development, after which, you can align what you’ve learned with your own family’s experiences. In the last few minutes, you and your kids will try out some play activities together that stimulate development and can be recreated at home.
Explained Forton, “We put parent/child play in specifically so mom and dad can see what they’re learning in action. We’ve designed the activities in a way that parents can use things they already have in their homes or that are simple to access. How they play with their child impacts every developmental domain, and we want to hone in on that.”
Each one-hour What You Do Matters session focuses on a different topic related to development:
- Week 1: “Your Child’s Brain and Its Amazing Potential” – Learn how your little one’s brain develops over time and how her environment can impact learning.
- Week 2: “Movement and Motion” – Every time your child runs, tumbles and roughhouses, she’s gaining knowledge on top of improving motor skills.
- Week 3: “Now Hear This!” – From the moment your child takes her first breath, she’s also taking in every sound around her, which in turn, strengthens her listening and speaking skills.
- Week 4: “Feelings” – Discover what your little one is feeling – even if she’s too young to say it – and uncover how her emotions help her figure out the world around her.
- Week 5: “What Do You Think?” – Play is one of the best ways your child can learn and imagine, especially during the early years of development.
- Week 6: “Making It a Routine” – Take the skills you’ve learned over the past five weeks and make a plan to build on them moving forward.
While What You Do Matters is making its St. Louis premiere, the series has already been a success among educators and parents alike in a pilot program in Oklahoma. A researcher from Fontbonne University who conducted an evaluation of the pilot program found that “there is strong evidence that participation in the What You Do Matters series increases parental self-efficacy.”
“By empowering parents with child development knowledge, we’re giving them the tools to be more confident in advocating for their child in other spaces, like school or the doctor’s office,” Forton said. “They already have what it takes to be a great parent, but now they’re gaining the confidence to say what works and what doesn’t for their child instead of letting others make decisions for them. The evidence from the pilot shows we’re not just saying What You Do Matters works – it does work.”
Moreover, the social component of What You Do Matters helps parents build community connections, which are a key factor in family engagement. According to Forton, when relationships are built with other parents who have children the same age, moms and dads are more likely to participate in group settings and reach out to others for support. And as many moms know, nothing can feel as lonely as parenting for the first time.
Join in on the experience
What You Do Matters runs at the Crestwood Community Center, 9245 Whitecliff Park Lane from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. April 20 and 27 and May 4, 11, 18, and 25. In addition, a Spanish-language session will be held at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester, 567 St. Joseph Lane, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 9 and 30, May 7, 21 and 28, and June 4.
The series is absolutely free to any parent with children age birth to six, and all those participating receive home info, books and activities as well as a gift card an opening and a closing survey are completed. In addition, free childcare is provided during the parent presentation. To register, contact Forton at 314-432-4330, ext. 1248 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL