Parents as Teachers

Ch’anik’en Home Visiting program helps parents ready their children for kindergarten using tools they learn at home

A family mentor from CITC’s Ch’anik’en Home Visiting program provided Alma Ashenfelter with parenting and teaching tools as she got her son, Micah, ready for kindergarten.

Babies don’t come with an instruction manual. But parents who participate in CITC’s Ch’anik’en Home Visiting program get something better than a how-to book: They receive hands-on guidance in parenting skills from a family mentor.

In August, Alma Ashenfelter celebrated her son Micah’s graduation from the Ch’anik’en program at a ceremony hosted by CITC’s Child and Family Services department. Now five years old and in kindergarten, Micah participated in Ch’anik’en from age 17 months.

Micah Ashenfelter celebrates his graduation from the Ch’anik’en program.

Learning Together

Throughout that time, Family Contact Specialist Oxcenia Sonju paid regular visits to Alma and her son, bringing along snacks, books, activities, and parenting handouts. Each visit provided Alma and her son an opportunity to learn together.

“He loved doing the preschool readiness books,” she shared. “And I liked doing them with him, showing him the motor skills to cut out shapes and glue things together. Having somebody like Oxcenia come in and do stuff with us, it helped knowing that she’s raised her own daughter and has experienced some of the same things and can give you pointers.”

Ch’anik’en’s mentors use a Parents as Teachers model to equip families with an understanding of childhood development, help them improve their parenting practices, and assist them in readying their children for kindergarten. Working at the family’s home allows mentors to see how parents and their children interact, and then provide guidance.

“The goal is to educate parents when they have that time with their kids, when their kids are soaking up learning,” Oxcenia explained. “Alma spent a lot of time educating her son. You could see her explaining things to him when he had questions.”

CITC mentors also incorporate Alaska Native culture into the activities they bring to their home visits and to the social gatherings the program regularly organizes. The gatherings provide an opportunity for families to get to know each other and form supportive friendships.

Support Through Good Times and Bad

But Alma, who participated in Ch’anik’en during the COVID lockdown years, initially missed out on that socializing experience.

She and Oxcenia moved their mentor visits outdoors or met up on Zoom. Oxcenia devised outings for Alma and Micah, including a trip to the Kincaid Park Sand Dunes.

The support Oxcenia lent was helpful through the years Alma co-parented with her partner—but it became invaluable when her partner went away to prison, then passed away this April.

“Oxcenia’s visits helped to show my son that there are others around who want to give him structure, even outside of daycare,” Alma said.

Helping Children Grow

This fall, Micah has thrived in kindergarten, thanks his pre-K classes and to the preparation his mother provided with support from Ch’anik’en. Alma joked that she has a “five-year-old going on twenty-five.”

“His biggest fear, going to school, wasn’t being away from me—it was math! He said, ‘There are a lot of underlying issues,’” she shared, laughing. “He talks like he’s much older. By the end of the week, though, he was doing amazing in math, and I asked him how. He said, ‘I used my fingers!’”

Alma encourages other parents to enroll with Ch’anik’en. “It’s so beneficial because they bring so much to you—books and activities, social outings—but also because they really get involved and help you understand the developmental side of your child’s growth.”

Get involved with Ch’anik’en today: Visit our Child and Family Services programs on the web, or reach out to the CITC Navigation team to get enrolled with CITC. You can also register online for CITC services with the myCITC online portal.