February 14, 2017
Lincoln, Neb. — It has often been said that parenting doesn’t come with a how-to manual, but by developing some skills, parents can help build the foundation for their children’s learning, discovery and success in school long before kindergarten.
In the past, early childhood learning was focused on preschoolers, but researchers now also emphasize the importance of developing the skills of parents, child care professionals and other caring adults so they can help very young children learn too.
Nebraska is one of the leading states in early childhood development, and Nebraska Extension plays an important role with “The Learning Child,” a program that provides an array of unbiased, research-based classes, training and resources to enhance the healthy growth, development and success of children from birth to age 8. Each year, more than 2,900 parents and 1,700 early childhood development professionals participate in The Learning Child programs.
“From university professors and their research we know that learning should start at birth,” said Lisa Poppe, Nebraska Extension educator and member of The Learning Child team.
One focus of the program is children’s social and emotional development. “It’s important that children learn colors and letters of the alphabet, but the social and emotional wellbeing of children is an important part of getting ready for school, too,” Poppe said. That includes helping children to be able to regulate their emotions, to be able to stay focused and other skills necessary for success in school.
In addition to on-site classes and meetings, online programming—including webinars and video—is rapidly increasing in popularity.
Child care professionals, for example, often are busy people with their own children and don’t always have the time or energy to attend in-person training. Online classes enable them to earn required in-service hours any hour of day or night through the Early Childhood Education Series.
Similarly, Co-Parenting for Successful Kids-a class that helps separating and divorcing parents and others develop respectful and responsible co-parenting-offers both on-site and online classes. The number of online participants has increased from zero in 2011 to more than 80 percent of the 1,800 parents taking the courtmandated class in 2015, said Gail Brand, also an Extension educator and part of The Learning Child team. In addition, Oklahoma State University Extension and Purdue University Extension contract with Nebraska Extension to offer the online class for Oklahoma and Indiana parents.
What makes Nebraska Extension online classes unique is that instead of just answering multiple choice questions, participants engage in interactive activities and “homework.” Extension educators communicate with participants online or in person with opportunities for them to learn from each other.
After the initial training ends, members of The Learning Child team follow up with questions such as “Did you put the activity into practice?” “Is it working?”
“We want to build relationships with our clientele,” Poppe said.
Surveys are conducted after the class or training ends. Co-Parenting for Successful Kids is one of only a few parenting classes nationally that compiles pre/post and six-month evaluations, Brand said. “We’re also concentrating more on social media because that’s how many young parents access information.”
In 2015, The Learning Child had a 71 percent increase in social media followers with more than 84,000 overall impressions of tweets, posts and pins.
The Learning Child Development Team includes University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty, Extension educators, specialists and professionals. “We use everyone’s strengths,” Poppe said. “It’s what we love and what we’re good at.” The Learning Child extends beyond Nebraska. Team members have engaged in international initiatives in Brazil, China, Italy, Kenya and Scotland. The goal of these reciprocal exchanges with other professionals is to improve early childhood education for young children in Nebraska, the United States and abroad.
“Parents everywhere just want what’s best for their kids,” Brand said. “The Learning Child helps provide the necessary training for parents and other caring adults so they can provide the best learning for their children.”Lisa Poppe
Associate Extension Educator
Author: Linda Ulrich