I-Parents can be 'easy first stop' for tough parenting questions

I-Parents can be 'easy first stop' for tough parenting questions

Your family has lost a beloved pet, and your daughter is distraught. It’s her first encounter with death. What do you say?

Your son has failed, for the 47th time, to carry out a simple task as you’ve requested. (Unscientific research at our house has proven that it takes 50 repetitions before such instructions sink in.) How do you communicate your displeasure without starting your sentence with, “How many times have I told you to ...”?

The uncertainties of parenting have prompted the best of us to seek advice from more experienced moms and dads — friends, families, web sites and, in this social media age, followers on Twitter.

The University of Illinois has a new initiative designed to make that search for information a bit easier. It’s called I-Parents, an interdisciplinary project to highlight parenting information at the UI and link it to helpful resources in the community, said project coordinator Anne Robertson, director of the Office of School-University Research Relations in the UI College of Education.

The I-Parents website has a “Tool Kit” of helpful topics with advice on child development, such as protecting your child from bullying. The list also includes practical information such as where to go if you’re new to the area, or how to garden with your child.

I-Parents has also sponsored several events, such as the “Summer Camp Extravaganza” in April, a one-stop shop for parents looking for ways to keep their kids busy this summer. Many parents complain that it’s hard to pull all that information together on their own, or that by the time they find out about a program it’s already full, Robertson said.

The event drew more than 350 families, and “we ran out of materials,” she said.
Brenda Reinhold of Champaign signed up her twin daughters for a four-week UI kinesiology camp that she hadn’t even heard of before the event, even though she’s a university employee — and works in the same office suite as Robertson.

“If it wasn’t for their program, I probably wouldn’t have signed my kids up for any summer camps because I wouldn’t have known about them,” she said.

The event also sparked some enthusiasm in her 11-year-old daughters, Megan and Sara, who hadn’t exactly been thrilled about the prospect of summer camp before that.

The I-Parents concept was born about two years ago, right about the time the recession was hitting home and “it was clear we were losing a lot of resources,” Robertson said. Child-care centers in the community were closing, families were feeling the pinch.

A group from departments that work with families came together and said, “What can we do collectively that might be helpful?” she said. Since they didn’t have much money to work with, they decided to collaborate on activities and find a way to make their resources more accessible to people outside the university.

One of their first events, in fall 2008, was a literacy fair, in collaboration with a community Youth Literacy Fest. Then, with interest from local school districts, they began to think about providing more resources on parenting education.

“The fact is we’re already doing a lot. Programs here at the university are providing a wealth of resources. It’s just that people are not aware of them. They’re kind of embedded and hidden in websites,” Robertson said.

Among them: the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative, a federally funded program with a long history of providing resources to parents and early childhood educators.

Other I-Parents partners include UI Extension, which operates a “Parenting 24/7” website; the Department of Psychology, which has a Center on Parenting that focuses on academic achievement in children; the Department of Speech and Hearing, which has resources for children with speech or hearing delays; the Department of Kinesiology, which studies obesity and exercise in children; the School of Social Work, which operates the Center on Children and Families; and the Family Resiliency Center, which promotes family health and well-being.

I-Parents is an “easy first stop,” a friendly way for parents to access all of those resources, Robertson said. “It’s not intended to be the only stop.”

The topics in the “tool kit” so far are the ones that parents have asked about. I-Parents has received about 130 completed surveys from parents, filled out on its web site or at various events. The topic list will grow with time and includes links to helpful websites outside the university, too, she said.

The site also links to parenting research at the UI. Robertson asks researchers to explain how their work benefits real-life parents. Her ultimate hope: faculty will “listen to what’s important to parents, and then structure their research around that.”

Robertson also hopes I-Parents will promote more collaboration among the departments involved, with input from school districts and the wider community. The I-Parents advisory board includes representatives from the Champaign and Urbana school districts.

I-Parents is still developing plans for future events based on parent feedback. Next year’s summer camp event, for instance, may include an expert on camps for special needs children — a popular topic this year.

I-Parents can also help parents who want to start support groups. It’s already working with a UI single moms group, Robertson said.

“What we’re trying to do is pull together existing resources in a way that enriches the lives of parents and children in the community,” she said.

News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth can be reached at 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter.com/jawurth. 

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