Exeter program helps preschoolers, parents get prepared

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Destiny Vanzandt, left, plays with 8-month-old daughter Maggie Vanzandt while father Trent Vanzandt looks on. The family was attending their first meeting of the Exeter Parents as Teachers program, which holds monthly events for parents who have preschool-age children. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Child, parental development the goal of Parents as Teachers

For the past seven months, Exeter’s Parents as Teachers (PAT) program has been providing local families the opportunity to get together once a month and participate in activities aimed at improving cognitive and learning abilities of preschool-aged children and helping parents improve their parenting practices.

Organizers Stephanie Crumpler and Wendy Lueckenhoff spearhead the program, which has been meeting since August 2016.

Stephanie Crumpler, left, one of the Exeter Parents as Teachers organizers, builds a project with Kaiden Jordan, 3, during a recent meeting. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

An early childhood speech pathologist, Lueckenhoff said she works with the local child population, and the Exeter area needed something for children from birth to age 4, before they enter preschool at age 5.

“We have monthly ‘Group Connections’ at the school and other places, like the pumpkin patch,” she said. “We also had a breakfast with Santa. Stephanie and I saw there was a need through my work and her home visits. I wanted to bring in language development, because as a parent, I’m open to any ideas to help children develop.”

Lueckenhoff said each month, they create themed activities, such as the Valentine’s Day/Going to the Movies held in February. Coupled with the district’s Title 1 reading night, the Movie Night theme paired books with their movie adaptions, and there were plenty of hands-on activities to keep the preschoolers busy.

Bryce Stephens, left, colors hearts with sidewalk chalk with his daughter, Allie Stephens, 3, during a recent Parents as Teachers meeting in Exeter. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

“We work on cognitive development, social and emotional development, motor skills development and language development,” Lueckenhoff said. “The core group of parents and their children are always very excited and come to every event.”

Along with the book-movie combinations, February’s meeting included multiple stations for art, letter recognition, building projects, a trampoline and sports balls for play.

“We typically have eight or so families a month,” Crumpler said. “We try to reach out to different groups at different times, like holding [February’s event] on Title 1 night to bring in other parents that may not have been in PAT.”

Bryce and Ashley Stephens, parents of 3-year-old Allie Stephens, have been coming to the PAT meeting each month since the program began, and they said the changes they have seen are enormous.

“One benefit is us knowing what we should expect for her age,” Ashley Stephens said. “Allie’s writing has gotten a lot better. She’s able to hold a pencil better, and she’s getting good at tracing exercises.

“She can also hold and use scissors now, and that’s something we would have never let her do before we started.”

Bryce Stephens said the social aspect is also a plus.

“Another part of it is her getting more exposure to kids her age,” he said. “It’s good we’re not all by ourselves, and later, she will recognize some of the other kids when she goes to school.”

Stephens said bringing his daughter to the PAT events is a step above what the family was getting with home visits.

“It’s great to meet other parents and talk about different things, what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “It’s definitely given us more direction into helping Allie with areas she struggling in and what direction we need to go to get here where she needs to be. We’re learning when she’s good in one area, we can direct her focus to another less proficient area.”

Lueckenhoff and Crumpler also provide other services to parents and families in need, such as connecting them to food pantries, WIC representatives or the Health Department.

“We both have full-time jobs, and this is just an extension of our jobs,” Crumpler said. “It’s always amazing how the Group Connections magically come together. We like to do those physical activities to get the kids away from screens, like TVs or phones.”

For more information about the PAT program at Exeter, people may visit www.exeter.k12.mo.us and click the “Parents as Teachers” link at the top of the page. People may also call 417-835-2922, or email Crumpler at scrumpler@exeter.k12.mo.us or Lueckenhoff at wlueckenhoff@exeter.k12.mo.us.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: