Frances Bond's message hasn't changed in 30 years. But her medium has.
The long-time teacher has been answering parents' questions about how to best prepare their youngsters for school since she became a kindergarten teacher in the early 1960s and, as a Towson State University professor, she's still doing so.
Now she gives many of those answers via a series of videos called "First Steps," which she created with the help of Baltimore County Schools for broadcast on cable Channel 36, the school system's educational station.
The series, 18 segments and growing, has attracted the attention of an educational video distributor who began marketing it this year to school systems and libraries across the country. And the Cloisters Children's Museum is showing several segments of "First Steps" throughout April on Thursday afternoons.
This growing audience pleases Dr. Bond, who undertook the project in 1988, to try to nudge and comfort as many parents as she could.
"As a child development specialist, I was asked to do speeches [for parent groups]. The concerns were very similar," focusing on development and learning, she says:
"What can I do to help my child succeed in school?"
"What should I be doing?"
"What should we expect of a 2-year-old?"
"What kinds of books should I be reading to him?"
The questions weren't difficult. But she heard them
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again and again. "I began to think, 'How can I reach a larger audience?' " recalls Dr. Bond, a professor and associate dean of education at Towson.
Without much knowledge of video, Dr. Bond proposed the idea of a series for parents to the county's educational channel, which liked the ideas and lent her a cameraman and a producer/director employed by the county schools.
And "First Steps" toddled off.
The first segment was on the importance of reading to children, the 18th on fostering learning. In between, the 25-minute segments have looked at appropriate toys, play, creativity, divorce, children's literature and child care. Dr. Bond is just starting to work on No. 19 -- "Healthy Babies," the importance of supervised prenatal care. They are all geared to parents with children up to 6
years of age.
Dr. Bond does the series on her own time, researching and scripting each segment for herself and the guest experts she invites. "I hate to even estimate how much time it takes," she says. Most segments are filmed on location with children -- at a child care center, a museum, a kindergarten classroom. This year she received a small honorarium from Baltimore County Schools.
"The ideas are not earth-shaking. They're very simple . . . but they do reinforce what's important for a child's development," she says. "A parent is a child's first teacher. The purpose [of the videos] is to give parents support in teaching children."
Ms. Bond is not advocating formal teaching. She is, rather, reinforcing the behavior that comes naturally to many parents.
"We need to spend time [with our chil
dren] and talk to them, read to them, sing to them, recite nursery rhymes," she says. "We need to give the time and the materials and the encouragement to play and create, letting them explore and experiment."
None of this needs to be structured. There are teaching moments in a walk around the block, in a trip to the grocery store, browsing through a picture book. "Quality time does not need to be structured time," she cautions.
There is reinforcement in her series, too. "I know there are a lot of parents out there doing what I propose. But it always feels good to have someone tell you that you were doing it right," says Dr. Bond, the mother of four adult sons.
Besides stimulating youngsters and giving them new experiences, parents need to help their children feel good about themselves. "We need to be very careful of the tone of voice we are using -- not to
be destructive," she says.
And, for their own good, Dr. Bond advises parents to relax, to laugh, "to enjoy the joys of parenthood."
Before the video series was marketed nationally, Dr. Bond and her producer/director Lou Wehage gave copies to almost anyone who gave them a blank tape.
"We've made innumerable copies for numerous groups. It seems to be very popular with those who have seen it," says Mr. Wehage. It's been shown to teachers, students and parents at many Baltimore County schools, used in child care centers for staff training and by several area corporations as part of their parent-education lunches, Dr. Bond says.
She attributes the series' popularity to its approach. "What I try to do is get on a personal level, to incorporate information in an entertaining way. We make it fun," says Dr. Bond of her colleagues, Mr. Wehage and cameraman Carl Sucker.