About Dr. Susan


Parent Training for Infant Development

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By Dr. Susan H. Turben

Susan Turben began to observe young children in her work as a director of Christian Education. She developed a special concern for the young child in the inner-city environment. Beginning with independent studies, supplemented by degree work at Empire State College, she has become very knowledgeable about infancy research and child development. She began her action program of parent education in downtown Albany, New York with four families in 1968. By 1970 she was training others to assist in home visitation and, at the time, incorporated the CRP publication, Let Me Introduce My Self, in her training. In this article she describes this program of parent training for infant development.

What is cheap, preventative, and works? Parent Training For Infant Development! My intent is not to talk in riddles, but to provide a glimpse into parent education, parent power, and how babies learn – a package of information and home education which combines learning and life.

During the past fifteen years, I have taken every opportunity to observe very young children, initially, as the director of Christian Education for 400 infants through eight-year-olds, then as mother and admirer of three interesting children and, more recently, as teacher and friend to many preschoolers and their parents in Albany’s South End and Arbor Hill areas, known for their low socio-economic status. What I have seen has given me a point of view about parents and poverty in relation to education and the development of unique human beings.

In my view, families with years of degradation, social and economic isolation and immobility behind them, generally do not get and, therefore, cannot implement practical, resourceful information about the crucial ages and stages of child development. This information can encourage parents to get involved with each child’s unique style of learning, to recognize differences in development, and to reward each child for wanting to explore and learn for himself. In addition to this information gap, our entire public-education system has assumed for years that parents, especially those who happen to be poor and black, don’t care, don‘t teach, and don’t know how to do either. Parents get the message quickly that they aren’t the teacher and, therefore, should accept the school as the educational authority for the good of the child. The inference is that learning begins only when the child arrives at the doorstep of the school.

Education does not begin at age three in a classroom; it begins at birth in the home.

Education does not begin at age three in a classroom; it begins at birth in the home. Parents are the first, most consistent, most appropriate teachers their children will ever have! Parents deserve the chance to become part of an educational system which recognizes and commends them for having begun the process of learning at home. School and home should complement each other and support the basic unit in our society, the family. Through research and study, using four initial families as resources, I observed that poor parents spend equally as much time with their very young children as more affluent parents do, but use the time to confront family-life problems which threaten their very survival. It is hardly a shocking bit of news that mildewed clothes, bread for a meal, or bug bites take precedence over creating perceptual tasks or making a mobile for the baby.

A good program of stimulating activity for young children must, then, focus on supporting and strengthening family life, if a child’ first three years of life are to have real meaning for parents. I encountered a good deal of face validity for my goal of a parent-centered, home-based approach to infant education. The joy of discovering information which I could devour, savor, and really use was, for me, a transcending experience, thanks to such gifted minds as Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Ira Gordon, Ronald Lally, and a person who tuned me in with his application of theory to the development of his application of theory to the development of character, Ernest Ligon. I read everything I could get my hands on that would combine theory with practice, and I discovered that I was into a lot of the same kinds of thinking as those about whom I was reading. I discovered that I was not alone with my goal. My energies were then directed toward action – the designing of homemade or home-available teaching objects which would help mother and fathers to observe and enjoy the play-learning experiences of their infant and toddler children. Games, exercises, and tasks were devised so that maturational gains could be enriched and expanded to produce the maximum amount of self-worth and successful accomplishment for both parent and child.

My proposal was given financial support from a four-church group ministry, called the “Focus” churches, in the inner city, and Trinity Institution, a family service agency. Information papers describing the project were sent to community groups, chain stores and food co-ops, public schools, preschool programs, and people – plain ordinary people who indicated they wanted to help. No one was turned away!

Parents are the first, most consistent, most appropriate teachers of their children.

In September 1970, the first group of indigenous persons, some paid, some volunteer, but all residents of the city of Albany, began sharing and learning during forty hours of training in human growth and development, community agencies and their functions, prejudice and superstition, nutrition, observation, and field work. The trainees were given the paraprofessional title of “Home Educator” and assigned three home visits daily, three days a week. Families were recruited through public relations efforts, such as speeches to school and church groups, posters, and a door-to-door canvas of nearby housing projects.

The Home Educators, who visited each family twice a week, were people who knew the immediate community, its problems and its stresses, its putdowns and its hang-ups. They entered into the lives of other families as helper/friends, ready to assist in getting problems solved now, not next Tuesday, and equipped to demonstrate play-toys as tools for achieving strong minds and healthy personalities.

Cereal boxes become tools for learning size and shape discrimination, a flashlight helps a child to label terms necessary for spatial relationships, buttons and a slot-box increase small muscle control. Through these tasks, a parent sees his child being successful and doing things the child has not done before. Parents respond to this with very real feelings of pride and, often without words, convey this to their children. Learning then becomes a positive, attainable goal for families, even those fragmented by constant crisis and economic worry.

The project has the potential to break the poverty cycle.

Such a project has the potential to break the poverty cycle and overcome the hopelessness which many parents endure concerning their children’s future life. We have seen it happen. The parent and the Home Educator develop an individualized program of learning experiences from which the child can learn trust and confidence.

A program of Parent Training For Infant Development must someday be part and parcel to day care, nursery education, or pre-K classes, as an effective framework through which to sustain parent participation and insure carryover. In addition, vast numbers of developmental disabilities, dysfunctions, and conditions unentenable in family life would be detected early enough to avoid remediation later on. This alone would more than justify the existence of such a program. But there is more. Learning would be placed in its proper perspective at long last – as an ongoing continuous part of life for parents as well as for children. Learning would then be a tool with which to develop the most and the best that every person is capable of being.

What is cheap, preventative, and works” You know!

Ask Dr. Susan