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Learning Connection allows parents and children time to bond

By Kelly Terpstra,

The Learning Connection has helped Lydia Johnson become a better parent.

Monday mornings during the spring, the doors to the Bethany Alliance Church in Charles City open to parents and their kids.

There in the church’s basement, instructors, teachers and children collaborate and often problem solve — all the while enjoying their shared time together.

“I see myself as a veteran,” said Johnson, a mother of four boys that attend the six-session spring program that strengthens bonds between parent and child.

The program is an opportunity for parent and child to grow together, and also work to increase parenting skills.

“Each class has its own feel. It’s really fun to see,” said program coordinator Sue Loken.

The Learning Connection was created by Loken in 1998, holding its first class in Worth County almost 21 years ago.

Since then, many families have benefited from the education and helping hand that the accredited parent support program provides for early childhood development.

Charles City holds three terms of classes, fall, winter, spring, with six sessions per class. There is a morning class in Charles City that meets at the BAC and one in the evening at Washington Elementary School. A teen parenting class is also offered at the First Congregational Church.

“The morning class is more stay-at-home moms who are anxious to get out of the house and talk with other moms and having something fun and educational for the children to be involved in,” said Loken. “The evening class, you’ve got parents who have been away from their children all day long and they’re anxious to come together and learn more about parenting — have that one-on-one time with their child.”

The Learning Connection is administered through four area school districts: Charles City, New Hampton, Osage and St. Ansgar. Charles City offers 54 sessions throughout the school year. Each session lasts an hour and a half. All families with children birth to kindergarten age are invited to enroll.

“That’s what’s really great about the program, because every parent needs education and support,” said Loken. “My standard line is, ‘I don’t care who you are – toilet training is toilet training is toilet training.’”

Amy Kubik, who moved to Charles City several years ago, brings her three children to the program at BAC in the mornings on a regular basis. She says it prepares some of her kids for pre-school and also allows parents the time to talk to each other about various struggles they may be going through.

“You’re never going to be a perfect parent,” said Kubik.

Parents break away for the last hour of the program to learn about a variety of topics. Monday’s guest speaker for the parents was Briana Rottinghaus, a sexual assault advocate for Crisis Intervention Service.

Rottinghaus’ presentation on Monday focused on child abuse and ways you can identify and prevent it. Kubik said other topics during various terms that she enjoyed were reading and first aid classes.

The time to socialize is also beneficial for parents, while at the same time allowing their kids to learn and play while they are away from the mom or dad.

“Although we have parent educators who are using the curriculum, it’s also an opportunity to befriend and become acquainted with other people in the community who have children the same age as your children and who are going through the same thing you’re going through,” said Luken.

No problem or question is too small or off limits, according to Johnson, who brought three of her sons to the class on Monday and has attended the Learning Connection for four years.

“Sometimes it’s still scary to talk to other adults, but in this setting it’s really nice because it’s all open. Nobody judges you and you do learn. You take away something every time,” Johnson said.

Loken said she started the program with grants. She said about 30 families attend the classes in Charles City. The Learning Connection was first introduced in Charles City during the 2007-2008 school year.

“We have been in many school districts. Grants have come and gone, but the Floyd, Mitchell, Chickasaw County area are truly dedicated to this program and have continued to fund the program for many years now,” said Loken.

Kubik and her kids – Kash, Hallie and Laker – said they look forward to the experiences gained through the program.

“They get sad when we don’t get to come,” said Kubik. “They like getting out of the house, too, just as much as I do.”

Johnson is thankful that her three boys – Dax, Quincy and Rhys – get to enjoy a worthwhile experience that helps nurture healthy growth and development.

“It’s not for everybody, but it definitely has a great purpose in our life and our kids look forward to it,” said Johnson.

Marilyn Heitz is on-site coordinator for the Charles City Learning Connection.