February 22, 2000 | By: Mark Eclov

A growing body of research suggests that effective learning skills begin well before youngsters attend their first day of school and that mom and dad can be their child's most influential teachers.

The Kentucky Cooperative Extension service is in the development phase of a state-wide early educational effort called "Keys to Great Parenting: Fun and Learning with your Baby or Toddler" which intends to assist parents of very young children in honing their parenting and teaching roles.

"We will be working very closely with the Governor's Office on early childhood development and our focus is going to be on parenting education that stress skills needed by parents caring for children up to three years of age," said Dr. Sam Quick, one of the project leaders and a human development and family relations specialist in the UK College of Agriculture.

The program will include both group learning sessions and individual home visits and it is anticipated that more than 60,000 parents, guardians and care-givers will eventually participate in the program.

New and accumulated research on brain development has pointed out how critical it is to provide babies and toddlers with the right stimuli to improve their chances for learning later in life.

"Because parents are the very first influence on a child's life it very important that they realize their role as teachers of the child from the very start of life to give them a mental boost that will last them a lifetime," noted Quick.

The new Extension program is currently in the development phase. Dr. Carole Gnatuk, a temporary assistant professor and early childhood development specialist is helping Quick develop the various tools needed to support the educational effort.

"A large body of research suggests that establishing a bond of affection and trust between parent and child not only creates happier kids, but fosters increased chemical action in the brain which in turn increases the number and strength of neuron connections," noted Gnatuk. "Learning ability is directly related by the complexity of these connections developed within the brain."

"And we don't need a lot of expensive equipment or fancy toys to get it done. It's a matter of relationships and establishing quality time spent with your child. That is the foundation," noted Quick.

The program materials will include a variety of instruction aids such as audio cassettes, a facilitator manual, videotapes, a web site and an array of hands-on activities. Once developed, the program will be made available through County Cooperative Extension service offices to parents and organizations statewide.

The "Keys to Great Parenting" message will be carried to parents through the county agents of the Cooperative Extension Service and also by a group of "mom and dad" veterans.

"Dr. Gnatuk has taken the leadership in designing a mentoring program where parents who have already raised their children will be able to share some of their life experiences and expertise with younger parents," said Quick.

The Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association with it's 22,000 members has promised to provide leadership in developing and carrying out the mentoring program.

The Extension parent training efforts will complement the many other efforts being developed by host of other agencies within the state that will target other specific needs of Kentucky's kids such as preventive health programs and parent support opportunities.

"One of the main themes of the Governor's Office and the state Extension service is that we want maximize the use of our resources and avoid unnecessary overlap," said Quick.

"We want a clear idea of what one another is doing and focus it in the best possible manner for this state's young people and their families." "We go so fast in today's world we often overlook how wonderfully complicated a young child can be," said Quick "We really need to develop a deep sense of respect and awe for this miracle of life that brings so much freshness and promise to the world."


Sam Quick 606-257-7753