By Ms. Christie Vanover (IMCOM)January 27, 2009
CHIAfaEURoVRES, Belgium - The Army is teaching Timothy to walk.
He's not recovering from war wounds. He's not even a Soldier. Timothy Zitterich is a 9-month-old boy, who because of the Army Family Covenant is developing his motor skills.
He sits on the ground helpless. He curiously watches others around him. They're running, walking, pushing toys and he processes it.
"He's trying to figure out how he can do it," said Liz Zukowski.
Zukowski is in charge of the New Parent Support Program for the USAG Benelux. The mother of two uses her years of experience as a registered nurse to help children develop.
While she spends most of her time conducting one-on-one home and hospital visits, on Jan. 15, she expanded her services to include a new bimonthly play group at the old Prime Time Bar & Grill on the Daumerie Caserne.
The group meets at 9:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. It supplements the play mornings offered at the SHAPE Healthcare Facility on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
However, by utilizing the now closed PTB&G, she has doubled her space and added a secure, fenced-in outside play area.
Melissa Zitterich, Timothy's mom, decided to try out the first Thursday play group. Her 3-year-old daughter participated in the Tuesday play mornings when they first moved to Belgium and Timothy has attended them for about four months.
"He gets social interaction because he gets to see other babies, and they see other babies do things and learn them," she said.
Even though Timothy is only 9-months-old and learning himself, on Thursday, his actions caught the curious eye of 6-month-old Adam Erlandsen who is learning to crawl.
Zitterich recognized that the benefits go beyond her son and the other children. She said the group also provides a good parent network. She added that the location is convenient because after class, she can do her rounds of shopping at the Post Exchange and commissary.
During the first class, three moms and two dads interacted with their children and each other to share and learn different parental techniques and tactics.
The parent interaction is key according, to Zukowski. "It's not free childcare," she said. "The parents must be within their child's reach. They're here for each other."
The group is open to all U.S. and SHAPE ID cardholders. While U.S. ID cardholders can show up without notice, SHAPE ID cardholders must notify Zukowski in advance, so she can register them on post.
Because Zukowski has numerous other responsibilities, she is seeking volunteers to help with the program. Volunteers would help with setup and tear down each morning, so Zukowski would only have to attend the groups for the one-hour of playtime, allowing her more time to continue her personal home visits.
Zukowski added that even though she has purchased some new toys for the group, toy donations are always welcome.