'Mommy, Let's Do My Homework'

April 08, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Angela Moore clears the table. It is time for a lesson. She will practice lines, shapes and directions. She will go on a treasure hunt, read a book, review words, do a finger play.

This day the mother of three is the student. But tomorrow -- and for many tomorrows -- Angela Moore will be the teacher -- her son, Marvin, the student.

Angela Moore is learning to be her child's first teacher so that Marvin, 4, will start regular school better prepared.

The Moores are one of 20 families participating in Baltimore County's first venture into the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, better known as HIPPY.

Aimed at families with limited educations and incomes, HIPPY provides the lesson plans, materials and a one-on-one instructor who visits parents at home to help them make their children ready for school.

The international program, designed for 4- and 5-year-olds, introduces and reinforces the skills and experiences that they need to succeed in the classroom -- and that they might not get otherwise.

The material is organized into short lessons that youngsters and grown-ups can work on for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The program continues for 30 weeks, coinciding with the school year, for two years.

"I like doing it," Ms. Moore says. "I have fun along with him. I like how he says 'Mommy, let's do my homework.' "

As were others in the program, Ms. Moore was recruited last fall by Nancy Dillon-Tobias, the school system's HIPPY coordinator. Marvin is in prekindergarten at Featherbed Lane Elementary School, where his brother, Branden, is in first grade.

Ms. Dillon-Tobias enlisted families recommended by prekindergarten teachers at four southwestern area elementary schools: Featherbed Lane, Powhatan, Hebbville and Woodmoor.

The program wasn't always an easy sell, Ms. Dillon-Tobias said. Some parents didn't have the time or interest -- an instructor goes to each home twice a month to prepare a parent or other grown-up to teach the child, and, between home visits, there's a meeting at one of the schools.

Some parents resisted and even declined to participate because they thought it too intrusive. But Ms. Dillon-Tobias, who taught kindergarten and prekindergarten before taking over the HIPPY program, says the early instruction can be critical.

"I have been working with 4- and 5-year-olds for the last 19 years. I have seen so many children who come to school who are not ready to learn," she said.

"This is tailor-made for what we need. It helps parents boost their confidence in being their child's first teacher. They can turn their home into a classroom."

While she was recruiting parents and children, Ms. Dillon-Tobias said, she also found "two gifts," Hester Hughes and Wendy Green.

They're mothers of children at Powhatan and Hebbville who became the HIPPY instructors, working up to 20 hours a week, visiting families and teaching parents.

Hester Hughes is Ms. Moore's instructor. During a recent visit, Ms. Hughes talked about previous lessons and previewed the week ahead. She often brings materials; this time they included paper plates and plastic cutlery for a lesson in table setting; plastic bags and toothpicks for an exercise in sorting.

Ms. Hughes plays the parent and lets Ms. Moore be her son. Ms. Moore identifies "standing-up" lines and "lying-down" lines on a sheet of paper. She matches pictures that are the same and points out those that are different. Ms. Hughes reads a new book and introduces words that might be new to Marvin.

She answers questions, makes suggestions, even leaves a treat for Marvin -- a contribution from Ms. Dillon-Tobias, who knows the value of rewarding a job well done.

Though neither has taught before, Ms. Hughes and Ms. Green love their new-found jobs.

"I had the luxury of being at home," said Ms. Hughes. "I worked with my children. Basically, what HIPPY does, I did."

Though the two instructors usually go to their families' homes, they will take HIPPY wherever it's convenient. Ms. Hughes teaches one mother on her lunch hour at the school where the woman works. Ms. Green accommodates another parent by going to her office in the apartment complex she manages.

Avonette Skinner likes the results she's seen in her daughter, Aleya, a prekindergartner at Powhatan.

"She seems to be very confident and sure of herself. She uses words a lot now that she didn't use," said Ms. Skinner, and Aleya now grasps concepts such as "big, bigger" and "small, smaller."

Although reluctant to participate at first, Ms. Skinner now wishes HIPPY had been available for her older children. "You want to enhance your children's education," she said.

The prekindergarten teachers with HIPPY youngsters in their classes notice the effects, too.

"I see a big difference in the children's attention span," said Linda Ketchum, a Powhatan teacher. "I even feel it's more important for the parents.

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