By Beth Oppenheimer
Parents of children younger than 5 might be tempted to think that education wonâ€™t be a priority for a few more years. During the summer, when weâ€™re all thinking about breaks and vacations, putting off education is even easier.
But for families with young children, the time is right to start turning everyday experiences into learning experiences. It is never too early to start preparing your children for school. We all benefit.
From the moment a babyâ€™s eyes open, it begins learning by leaps and bounds. Ninety percent of our brain development happens in the first five years of life. During this window, children begin building the essential social, behavioral, emotional and cognitive skills theyâ€™ll need the very first day of school and throughout the rest of their life.
Learning can be limitless; itâ€™s not confined to the classroom.
Teaching children to spell their name, count and recognize letters will help build literacy skills in addition to simply reading to and with children. This everyday activity can enhance behavioral and critical thinking skills. You can pick out a word in the book to discuss or ask your child open ended questions. Try to have them describe characters.
Social and behavioral skills will also develop as children get immersed into routines, modest chores like picking up toys and joining playgroups.
Not all children enter school at the same level as their peers; many arenâ€™t prepared. These gaps in social skills and behaviors as well as with subjects like literacy and math can hold back classmates, teachers and your childrenâ€”it prevents children from reaching their full potential.
In 2011, only 56 percent of Idaho kindergartners were at grade level upon entering kindergarten. According to the Treasure Valley Education Partnership, 42 percent of students entering kindergarten do not reach the benchmark for learning to read.
More than 37 percent of Idaho children were not ready for first grade based on cognitive assessments.
Early exposure to chronic stress, abuse or neglect can harm a childâ€™s development and ability to learn.
Not only does this expand the drastic difference in grades, comprehension and test scores, but also translates into a widening range of income levels for Idaho. Lack of learning experiences for kids reflects on education in Idaho as well as on our economy.
On the other hand, school-ready children have experienced quality learning at home, in preschool or through childcare. Studies show these children are less likely to need remediation and are more likely to graduate high school, attend college and gain employment.
One of the most important things parents or caregivers can do is to recognize that school readiness is more than learning numbers and letters.
It is about supporting the emotional, social, and cognitive development of a child. It is about providing a safe, secure environment that promotes healthy development.
But only 35 percent of thee and four-year-old Idaho children are enrolled in some form of pre-school or enriched daycare.
Early education is betterâ€”and less expensiveâ€”than remediation. Communities investing in childcare that emphasizes education, such as NAEYC accredited programs or IdahoSTARS rated programs, reduce long-term costs for special education, crime, child welfare, and other social programs. Saving are estimated at $11 for every $1 invested in early education.
Communities can support early learning initiatives and public policies by promoting quality early care, education and supporting working families. To learn more, please visit www.IdahoAEYC.org
Beth Oppenheimer is the executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, a non-profit organization working to promote excellence in early childcare and education throughout the state of Idaho.
By Beth Oppenheimer