The Florida First Start Program is a home-school partnership designed to give children at risk of future school failure the best possible start in life and to support parents in their role as their children’s first teachers. Emphasis is on enabling families to enhance their children’s intellectual, physical, language, and social development by involving parents in their children’s education during the critical first three years of life. Through early parent education and support services, the program lays the foundation for later learning and future school success, while fostering effective parent/school relationships.
Trained parent educators visit each family’s home at least monthly, providing information on stages of intellectual, physical, language, and social development. Hands-on activities and individualized lesson plans designed to stimulate development are shared with parents. Information and guidance are offered on nutrition, effective discipline, home safety, constructive play, and other topics. Developmentally appropriate materials are selected to use during each visit and as an opening source of information to encourage parent/child interaction between visits.
Developmental assessments are conducted at six-month intervals to evaluate overall progress within the six areas: intellectual, fine motor, gross motor, expressive language, social/ emotional, and self-help skills. Children identified as having possible developmental difficulties are referred to school-based programs and/or community agencies for further evaluation. Children requiring further follow-up and/or treatment are referred to appropriate resources as needed.
Group meetings are designed to complement monthly home visits by providing parents the opportunity to share common concerns and experiences. A variety of topics on child development and parenting are presented. Children participate in opportunities for socialization and structured play activities during the meetings.
Parents and their children may visit the resource center to use toys, manipulatives, educational materials, children’s books, and to interact with other Florida First Start families. The center’s lending library loans toys and educational materials, in addition to books on parenting and child development, free of charge. Parents may also take advantage of weekly organized parent-child play groups.
Center-based staff offer supportive services to participating families in need of special assistance. Information and guidance are available to parents to facilitate access to and utilization of needed community resources.
Special thanks to the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County for fully funding Florida First Start.