Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 7:51 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Early childhood education: key to school success

Point of View

By Bonnie Betley and Lolita Brache

Research has shown that children who have a high quality preschool education will do better in the primary grades, are more likely to complete high school, to go on to higher education, and therefore will have better jobs and be contributing members of our society. That is a tall order for something as humble as preschool.

But the numbers are there to prove that for every dollar spent on early education, about $9 will be saved in remedial education, juvenile delinquency and incarceration costs. We believe that it is the responsibility of our whole community (not just parents of young children) to ensure that our children succeed in school. The 5-year-olds of today will be the professionals, the leaders of tomorrow. Everyone has a stake in seeing that they develop the skills needed to take on their adult roles.

"Early education" starts from the moment the baby is born.

The most important learning years are from birth to 5 — before school begins. Current research on brain development has given us compelling data on how the child's developing brain is nurtured when loving caretakers read, sing and play with the child, and how much damage can be done by excessive screen time (TV, computers, games), poor nutrition, violence in the home or a chaotic home life.

We believe families need access to information (i.e. how children learn, parenting support) and social services. Helping families build a support system — connecting to other families and community resources — ensures they have what they need to weather difficult times. These protective factors will prevent child abuse and domestic violence so children build the strong social and emotional foundation they need to succeed in school.

What else is necessary for a strong start in school?

Oral language is the foundation for literacy development and a strong predictor of later reading achievement because of its relationship to reading comprehension. According to researchers Hart and Risley (1995), the more words and positive interactions children heard at home, the larger their vocabularies were at age 3 and 9.

Kindergarten teachers in our communities have reported that some children enter school with the vocabulary of a 2-year-old instead of a 5-year-old. What can parents do to help their child?

First, play with your child, and really listen to what he/she says. Taking kids out into the community, going to different events, museums, talking about what you see, and do, and especially about what you did or what you will do all help your child learn new words and learn to express themselves.

Then read, read and read some more.

Social skills and the ability to "self regulate" are also essential for school success. Self regulation refers to the ability to control ones impulses such as being able to wait for what you want. When the teacher says, "Wait your turn to play with the truck," the child can do it without becoming upset. Being able to express emotions in appropriate ways and to work collaboratively with other children are things kids learn best by being with other children. So, even the most enriched home life can't do everything to prepare a child for school.

That is where having a high quality preschool or child care experience is important. A program that nurtures the love of learning through open-ended exploration and creative problem solving will give the young child a chance to develop all the skills necessary to succeed in school.

We believe that our communities need more high quality preschool, child care and playgroup options. The cost of child care and private preschools are prohibitive for some families, but all children deserve an opportunity to play with other children and to learn from highly trained professional staff.

Families First: A Best Beginnings Partnership is a group of agencies and individuals advocating for better early childhood education for our children. We have many projects under way including next week's upcoming Week of the Young Child celebration.

We will be kicking off the beginning of the Imagination Library: a program that sends free, high quality books to every registered child (from birth to 5), because the research shows the more books there are in a child's home, the more likely she/ he is to succeed in school.

Join us for our fun, educational events and learn how you can support better early education for all children. (For a schedule of events, please see page 13.)

Lolita Brache and Bonnie Betley are co-chairs of Co Families First: A Best Beginnings Partnership. They also have day jobs: Bonnie Betley is a public health nurse for the Alaska State Department of Health. Lolita Brache teaches adult basic education classes at Kachemak Bay Campus.