In the south Seattle neighborhood of White Center, parents, many Spanish-speaking, are learning how to teach their children years before they enter the classroom.
A trend of training parents to be better first teachers for their infants and toddlers is gaining momentum nationwide in the push to improve early education. But, that type of training is an especially important tool for Latino parents in Washington, where the fastest growing demographic of students are Latino.
From 1986 to 2008, the number of Latino students in Washington jumped 372 percent to 151,444 – and those numbers are on the uptick. Overall, Latinos make up 18 percent of the state’s population under age 18.
Resources to early education are improving, said Dan Torres, Director of Community Momentum for Thrive by Five Washington, the state’s public‐private partnership for early learning. (Dan Torres is no relation to me).
The state Legislature has signaled it might provide more funding for early education and Seattle voters just passed a prekindergarten initiative – two steps in the right direction, Torres said. But, one of his agency’s top goals is just to connect parents with information, education and services that already exist.
“It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t engage parents,” he said. “The message is that if you build it, people won’t necessarily come. You have to be intentional about outreach and maximizing participation rates.”
He recently visited with the parents in White Center and other areas where training, known as parent learn and play groups, are taking place. Torres emphasizes that targeted outreach and training is crucial. Most parents want to help their children any way they can, but need extra guidance. He mentioned that some parents, particularly immigrants, think the best way to teach their children English is to have them watch television.
Turns out there are better methods. I say that because I learned to speak English mostly from my older sister, who picked up the language, and a love of spinach (thank you, Popeye), from watching television. Our parents, Mexican immigrants, spoke to us Spanish.
The idea of intentional outreach resonates with me. I could have been labeled disadvantaged, but ended up being a high-achieving student.
I recall being bilingual as long as I can remember and went into preschool with a few skills. My mom, who had been a school teacher in Mexico, taught me to write the alphabet before I entered school.
I’ve heard numerous educational experts state that parents are the first and best teachers for children. As long as we’re focused on producing better students, enabling better parents sounds like a great idea, too.An earlier version of this article incorrectly labeled parent learn and play groups.