Research shows that children benefit from early childhood education, more specifically, that early preparation for school can create a positive and lasting effect on the child's performance in school and long after. With their Parents As Teachers (PAT) program, the government of Missouri has acknowledged this fact and developed a home-school partnership of parent education and family support that serves the family from pregnancy through early childhood and, ultimately, until the first day of kindergarten.
The purpose of the program is to enhance child development and school achievement through a universally accessible parent-training program. Organized through local public school districts, trained educators make regularly scheduled visits to parents who volunteer for the program. During these visits, parents are taught to encourage their children's language and thinking abilities through everyday experiences. Parents learn how to make and choose toys that stimulate curiosity and creativity, how they can foster social development; and how to discipline their children without punishing.
Since its statewide implementation in 1985, the results of the program have been impressive. By the age of three, children in the program were already showing significant advances beyond their peers in language development. In problem-solving and intellectual development as well as social development, the children were also far ahead of their peers. As the center of PAT's focus, these factors are essential predictors of future in-school achievement. Further, Missouri has found that these advancements occurred even when the various high-risk circumstances (age, education, income level, divorce, etc.) were present, implying that with this program all families can get their children off to a good start.
Often, the visits create an ability to identify and treat potential learning disabilities earlier, and therefore treat them more efficiently. Another encouraging effect of the program is the affirming relationship created between the parent and the school district long before the child enters school. As all educational indicators show, the more a parent is involved in their child's education, the better the child will perform. Finally, in the recruitment of parent-educators, the program has created jobs, jobs that are especially well-suited to former teachers or professionals who, usually due to having children themselves, need flexible, creative, and dependable employment.
The PAT Program has already begun to demonstrate transferability. Professionals from seventeen states have requested and received training in the program. Texas, Washington, Arizona, and Connecticut among others have adopted similar programs. The program's collaboration between parents and educators from infancy makes it replicable to any jurisdiction with involved educators and parents who want a better education and a better future for their children.