The old saying, “everything I needed to know about life, I learned in kindergarten” holds a good amount of truth to it.
As I scan my bookshelf, I still have the old books my mother used to read to me before I was in school. In my office, are the “Becky” books my aunt bought for me. Bless her heart, whenever she saw a book with my name Becky on it, she bought it and signed it with an inscription that said “As the twig is bent so the tree grows.”
These childhood books remind me of the enriched family environment in which I was raised. An environment surrounded by special books just for me, stimulating places that provided spontaneous learning and rich conversations and words that my three-year-old mind soaked up like a dry sponge. My childhood was filled with love and learning for which I am grateful.
I am proud to say that in Oklahoma, we recognize and acknowledge the value of early childhood education. By January 2011, every district must offer full-day kindergarten and many of our schools will have four-year-old programs.
Economically disadvantaged families are least likely to have monetary or social resources to provide the development every child needs as a BASIC opportunity for success in school.
The problems start early if they are not addressed early. According to PAES, Partnership for America’s Economic Success (www.partnershipforsuccess.org),
• By age 3, children of parents using social services like public housing or food stamps have a vocabulary of about 500 words compared to 1,200 words for children of college-educated parents.
• By age 5, a child’s brain reaches 85% of its adult weight and develops 700 neural synapses every second-the connections that help him learn.
Providing that development through early childhood programs pays dividends by providing better social and economic productivity later in life. Quality early childhood education for at-risk children can produce an annual rate of return as high as 16%, according to Art Rolnick, Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
All children should have effective early childhood development. Not all families are able to provide that development at home. That’s where, together as a public, we step in.
Here’s what a quality early childhood program looks like:
• A learning environment staffed by four-year degree teachers with specific training in early childhood education.
• Families and teachers exchanging information about the child’s development and learning progress.
• Well-balanced nourishing meals and snacks.
• Small teacher child ratios
• Teachers on bended knee speaking to children at eye-level and showing appropriate affection
• Children receiving a variety of stimuli in their daily routine using indoor and outdoor spaces, appropriate language, literacy, math, science, art, music, movement and dramatic play experiences.
• Children participating with teachers in individual, small-group and large-group activities.
Quality early childhood education is essential and helps give every child the firm foundation needed to be successful at each stage of their education and life. The love and learning I was exposed to early in my life has no doubt helped facilitate my success as an adult. This school year, support a great public school for every child.
- Felts is the Oklahoma Education Association president.