Julie Stiles plays with her children Addison (middle), 2, and Andrew, 4, during one of the APPL classes at Cormier School and Early Learning Center in Ashwaubenon.
Ask Liz Allen to sum up her experience with the Ashwaubenon Preschool & Parenting Learning program and she will tell you, "It was like Pinterest in real life, except it was for parenting."
It seems appropriate that Allen would compare the program to the popular social media site where people share tips and ideas about decorating and recipes and many other aspects of life. In APPL parents spend a short activity time with their children then separate.
The parents spend time discussing and learning from each other about topics such as discipline, child health issues, family budgeting and other common parenting issues, while the kids get time in planned activities led by teachers.
It's all part of the program's goals to provide support for parents and help kids gain school skills simultaneously.
For The Parents
Both former and current students frequently utter the phrase: "I've got to bring this up at class," or "If I was in class, I'd ask about this."
Having a good support system was part of Lorry Stiles' vision for the program when she developed it 20 years ago.
"When I was young with kids there were many moms at home, over time that changed," said Stiles. "There wasn't the network or support for moms."
Stiles researched resource centers in Milwaukee and Minnesota, trained with several programs and used their best practices and successful ideas to develop APPL.
"I know if you create something of great quality, people involved become the greatest advocates," said Stiles. "The greatest advertising is hearing one mom say to another 'you really need to be in the program.'"
Often times the bond parents create during the 10-week session continue after the classes have finished.
"When your kids outgrow it, it's kind of sad," said former APPL participant Brenda Herold. "Having that connection with parents with kids the same age was really helpful. We'd set up play dates outside of class."
A year later, Herold says she still connects with parents from her class.
It's a sentiment echoed by Allen, "I keep in touch with almost evey single one of them (families from APPL), when I see these families we hug and catch up, it's really awesome to have these families as friends and for advice."
It's little wonder that Ashwaubenon Family Resource Center Coordinator Paula Christensen and others running APPL refer to past participants as 'alum.'
The bonding develops during the parent portion of the session run by a facilitator, which includes Christensen or Naomi Adams or Shelley Preston. There is time for parents to ask for advice from each other and share successes. Then speakers and other experts about child issues talk with parents and answer questions.
"It's not just about parents, but about parents and children interaction," said Stiles. "(The program) set up so there is good quality interaction."
Each class begins with parents and their children gathered around one of the preschool teachers who talks about the theme for the day and what activities are planned.
The teachers provide parents and kids an activity they do together. For example they may be given a set of objects and a small piece of fabric. The parent covers the objects and removes one while the child's eyes are closed, then the child opens his or her eyes, pulls the fabric away and has to identify which object is missing.
"Our world is very busy and fast paced," said Christensen. "Parents give feedback that stopping and focusing on their child during these activities really helps them value how important it is to do just that."
After the activity, the week's Golden APPL Family reads a book they brought to the class who are sitting on mats in a format similar to preschool and early-school settings.
Then it's time to say good bye and the parents move to a different room while the kids engage in planned activities.
For The Kids
Lori Dell and Tracy Jacques, who have a combined 25 years teaching preschool, put together lesson plans for the kids.
Examples of projects include gluing paper pieces on a dinosaur to decorate it or searching through a sand box for objects tied to the class theme or other activity that develops vocabulary, fine motor skills and other skills to prepare kids for school.
Stiles says the preschool years are critical for developing many skills including learning to share and taking turns.
In fact the socializing for kids in a structured environment is part of the draw for some of the current participants.
"They learn how to get along with different personalities," said Maureen Nesvacil.
Her assessment drew many nods from other parents.
Stiles says she's been pleased with the success of the program not only from a professional stand point but also personally.
"One of my greatest joys was seeing my daughter-in-law and grandchild in the program and benefiting from it," said Stiles.