Vicki Smolke couldn’t imagine doing more satisfying work.
“I’ll be doing this until I can’t get up anymore,” she said.
Smolke has been a parent education teacher with Bellevue College’s Parent Education program for the past 27 years.
All local community colleges offer parent-child classes for families with kids from birth to age five, however, Bellevue College (BC) offers the classes through age 9.
BC’s Parent Education program began when the college opened in 1966. The program has grown significantly over the past 54 years.
The Parent Education program offers parent-child classes and cooperative preschools not only in Bellevue, but also Carnation, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Renton, Sammamish, Snoqualmie, and online. Classes are designed specifically for each stage of development: babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary up to age nine.
The children’s programs are all play-based and hands-on. Children’s activities provide diverse active learning experiences that support the development of creativity, emotional intelligence, literacy, math, science, music, physical abilities and social skills.
Unlike many children’s early learning programs, BC’s program classes include parents and parent education. Parents participate in the classroom so they are involved in their child’s education, seeing first hand the classroom activities and ways that the teacher engages and guides the children’s learning. Parent education sessions allow parents to connect with other parents and caregivers which helps build community and support systems.
The sessions are led by skilled college faculty, who are also experienced parents, and who offer evidence-based information balanced with practical tips about all aspects of parenting and child development.
The Monday morning infant class kicks off with music from BC music therapist Amy Dacaug. The babies roam and play with one another as the class begins. The parents take turns sharing their observations of the babies as well as sharing recent challenges.
Music serves as a slow and gentle transition between activities, allowing the children to move at their own pace. Different songs and activities support different areas of learning. For instance, the “good morning song” works to build social-emotional connections between parent and child, and the “shakers” song works on hand-eye coordination as well as intrinsic rhythm.
Snack time is educational too. Led by BC nutritionist Georyl Sparkman, the babies practice eating new healthy foods.
“I wish I had a class like this when I was a young mom,” BC parent education teacher Judy Erbe said.
Classes are offered for the full school year and, unlike other parent-infant classes, the classes allow for continuous enrollment throughout the year.
That serves the program’s mission of serving children as well as parents, Erbe said.
“It’s great for parents who have babies mid-year and don’t want to wait until the next school year starts to join,” Erbe said.
A new infant class, led by Erbe, started Wednesday, Jan. 8, just for that reason.
For Smolke and Erbe, serving parents and children is the most rewarding work.
“We get to work with parents in this new world they’re in,” Erbe said. “They need all the support they can get and we get to be there with them…We meet them where they’re at.”
To learn more about BC’s Parent Education program, go online to https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented/.