Teaching tool for parents: HIPPY: The program provides material, instruction to help children get a foundation for learning to read at home.


Four-year-old Jacob Clevenger rose with his mother every morning this school year to help drop off his big sister at Carroll County's Taneytown Elementary, where she was a first-grader.

Then he went to school -- at home.

His mother, Lisa Bitzel-Clevenger, was the teacher, and the classroom the family's house. There, Jacob was learning about shapes and colors, listening to stories and drawing pictures.

Jacob's curriculum came courtesy of the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, better known as HIPPY. Targeted to low-income families with limited formal education opportunities, the program also sends instructors into homes on a weekly basis to teach parents how to prepare their children for school.

"Every day he looks forward to doing his school work," Bitzel-Clevenger said of Jacob.

The program, which has a 30-week curriculum, is designed for children ages 3 to 5. Home instructors provide parents with lesson plans for the week. Parents, in turn, are expected to work with their child on the educational activities at least 15 minutes a day, five days a week.

"The program recognizes that parents are their child's first and most important teacher," said Sarah Hall, Maryland Department of Education liaison with the New York-based HIPPY program.

"It really helps parents build confidence and skills in their children before they start formal school and also helps provide parents with a sense of their own ability and the satisfaction of teaching their own children."

HIPPY served 225 families last year in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Wicomico and Caroline counties. While the number was not available, Hall said participation has increased this year.

The programs are generally funded through public school systems or social services programs, such as Head Start. Other sources of funding include foundation grants and state money earmarked for compensatory education, Hall said.

Although HIPPY is not a reading instruction program, its curriculum -- which includes nine short storybooks and dTC language-related activities for the parent and child -- is valuable in preparing children to learn to read.

"The most powerful thing that parents can do prior to their children entering school is to give them lots of good language experience," said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary schools in Carroll County.

"The whole idea is for parents to recognize that children actually build reading skills by building language skills," Mangle said. "Once you have an oral vocabulary, then when you see words in print you begin to apply syntax and phonics clues to recognize them."

Every week this year, home instructor Heather Heck took the HIPPY program to about 25 families in Carroll. On a typical visit to Bitzel-Clevenger's neat home in Taneytown, Heck settled in at the dining-room table with Jacob and his mother.

She took out scissors, glue and construction paper and let Jacob follow her guidelines to cut out a chick hatching from an egg. With some help from his mother, Jacob completed the activity.

Heck spent the rest of the half-hour visit giving Bitzel-Clevenger detailed explanations of the week's lesson plans, which included cutting out and coloring animal figures and reading the story "Bread and Honey."

"Sit next to him and ask him what animals are on the front of the book and ask him what Ben ate at the end of the story," Heck said. "Read the book out loud and have him follow along. "

Instruction packets left with the mother outlined the rest of the week's work, including making a honey-and-cracker snack as a "Bread and Honey" tie-in activity. The lesson plan comes with a "script" of story-related questions: "What did Ben the Bear eat on his bread?" "Tell me some things you like to eat that are sweet."

Bitzel-Clevenger also used the HIPPY program with daughter DeAnna for two years before she entered kindergarten and was pleased with the results.

"It focused all her energy in on learning," Bitzel-Clevenger said. "Now she's in the top reading class and top math class."

Studies indicate that HIPPY has proved to be effective in laying the groundwork to prepare children for reading instruction.

"Our understanding of what makes kids good readers is the exposure they've had to language, whether they enjoy reading and how involved the parents are, and HIPPY works on all those levels," said Shirley Sagawa, executive director of Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 12 national education organizations dedicated to improving America's public schools.

Sagawa said studies of local HIPPY programs have shown that children who participated did better on kindergarten readiness tests than other children of similar background who did not.

"What HIPPY does is give parents a guided set of activities that expand on activities that get kids ready to go to school," Sagawa said. "There's a lot of evidence that high-quality early childhood experiences correlate with success early in school."

HIPPY was developed in 1969 in Jerusalem by the National Council of Jewish Women. The first American programs began in 1984. An early supporter was first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who played a key role in bringing HIPPY to Arkansas, where it is widely used. Now, 120 programs operate in 27 states.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad