This piece originally appeared on Maria Shriver’s blog.
by Jalyssa Alvarado
This month, I officially become a working mother. I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited.
I’ve come a long way. I never had the kind of role model I’m trying to be for my kids. I had a tough childhood and school didn’t interest me at all. I became a mom when I was young, and my husband and I have three daughters now. He works really hard. For a long time, his work was seasonal and we struggled to make ends meet.
I want to do the best I can for my kids. Victoria (in the photo above) from Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program has helped me a lot. She started making home visits when our youngest, Jayla, was a baby. Every day, I see how everything I’ve learned is helping our girls. My experience with home visiting also helped me build confidence to go back to school and pursue a career as a medical assistant.
Here are 5 things I learned from home visiting:
- It’s never too early to read to your child
When I got pregnant the first time, I was a senior in high school. My husband pushed me to keep going to class, and I wound up graduating. But it was a very stressful time. I was 8½ months pregnant when our car was stolen. We didn’t know how we’d get Sabrina home from the hospital. I never thought about reading to my baby then or any of my kids when they were little. I was just raising them. Nobody ever read to me as a child. I didn’t know it would benefit them until I met Victoria. She said by reading to them, they’d learn and be curious and ask questions, which is good thing. Jayla just turned 4. She loves books and is doing great in preschool. Every day, I read to Jayla, and I have the older girls, Sabrina and Sienna, read to me. Sabrina is having a bit of trouble sounding out the words, but with practice she is getting better. Both girls love reading — especially to me. I love it, too.
- You don’t need expensive toys to help kids learn and grow
Victoria showed us how to make toys from stuff we had at home. My kids learn from all sorts of things, like using a string and Fruit Loops to build coordination and fine motor skills. With that activity Jayla also learned about colors and making a pattern. And at the end it was also a treat for her! She loved it. I also think it’s better for the parent to give children one-on-one time, rather than handing them an electronic device to play with.
- Everything I do with my children helps build our bond
Before Victoria started coming to our home, we didn’t really plan activities with our two older girls — maybe bubbles and coloring. I was still young, and I didn’t know. Nobody did crafts or played games with me or helped me with homework. It makes me feel good to do all these things with my children. I learned that it gives my kids comfort to know that they can depend on their mom or dad for anything. Interacting with a child helps them open up more to the parent. Maybe things would have turned out differently if I had had that type of interaction with my parent.
- There is more to school success than learning the ABCs
When Sabrina started preschool I was really nervous, and she cried a lot. It wasn’t like that with Jayla. She was excited. When we dropped her off, I was going to stay for a while and she was like, “Bye mommy!” She was pushing me out the door. She was so ready and excited, and she still loves to go to school. She had already learned a lot from my family and Victoria. Before school started, I took Jayla to Save the Children’s parent-child group meetings. She got to play with other kids and get comfortable with the school. I am very involved in my kids’ education. I go to all the open houses. My husband and I like to see the things they’re learning and ask how they’re doing. I think it shows the teacher and the principal that as parents, we are interested in our child’s education. It also shows our kids we want them to succeed.
- We can plan for a brighter future and it starts with education
I have always wanted to be there for my kids. I don’t have good childhood memories and I want to make positive memories with them. Victoria has helped me see that I could work and be a good mom. She said other parents do it and I can, too. The girls are in school and doing well, which has given me the confidence to go back to school myself. When I start working, my husband won’t have to work two jobs anymore, and we’ll have more time together as a family. Before we lived paycheck-to-paycheck. But the girls are getting older fast and we have to make plans for their future. In planning for this new lifestyle, Victoria and I talked a lot about budgeting and then my husband and I started saving. When I was younger, my family never asked if I wanted to go to college. I didn’t even think about it. But I want my girls to know college is important. My kids are doing great in school. They love learning and reading. I know they’re going to do well, especially with the help and support from their parents, something that I never had. Education is so important. It’s helped me be a better mom, and it’s helping them grow into amazing girls. No matter what struggles you have faced in life, education can make all the difference.
Jalyssa and daughters Sienna, 6, Jayla, 4, and Sabrina, 7, celebrate Jayla’s recent birthday.
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