Helping parents bridge the early learning gap

  • January 9, 2017
  • /   Reggie Dogan
  • /   early-learning

Whether rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural, most parents love their children, have high hopes for them and want all best the world has to offer for success in their young lives.

Unfortunately, parental knowledge and skills are not equal and too many fall short in offering the tools and training their children need to succeed in school and in life.

Studies show that children are more likely to succeed academically and are less like to engage in violent behavior if their families are involved in their education.

Parental involvement is broadly defined as “parental participation in the educational experiences of their children,” so it includes both school-based and home-based involvement.

For teachers, parental involvement improves parent-teacher relationships, teacher morale and the school climate.

For parents, involvement in their children’s education has been linked to increased parental confidence in, and satisfaction with, parenting, as well as increased interest in their own education.

Most parents want to be involved and engaged in their child's learning, and many are able to establish and maintain ongoing and productive interaction with their children on a regular basis.

Some families, however, must deal with challenging circumstances, such as financial difficulties, separation and divorce, health issues, and language and cultural differences that complicate their ability to help their child succeed in school.

Among the goals of the Studer Community Institute is to improve the community’s overall quality of life, and a critical part of it includes having children ready and prepared for school.

Of nearly 3,000 kindergartners in Escambia County schools, more than one-third of them — about 1,000 children — were not prepared academically or socially for kindergarten, based on data analysis by the Florida Office of Early Learning.

That means one out of three children start behind in school, and statistics bear out that the rarely, if ever, catch up.

Growing evidence increasingly shows that investment in early education provides significant benefits to children, families and society as a whole, increasing economic growth and promoting greater opportunity over time.

My role at Studer Community Institute is to promote parental engagement and help parents bridge the early learning gap to improve kindergarten readiness.

By building relationships with parents and families and creating partnerships with agencies, organizations and childcare providers, we want to give parents the training and the tools to aid in building their babies brains, which ultimately builds a life and build a community.

Research shows that nearly 85 percent of the brain is developed in a child’s first three years. The most important growth and development that physically forms the brain starts well before a child ever picks up a pencil, reads a book or goes to school.

Part of that development is related to brain development. The relationships with the important people in a baby’s life can literally shaped and form the intricate structure of an infant’s brain.

In recent years attention has increasingly focused on the most critical period of a child’s life — the first 1,000 days from pregnancy to the third birthday. It is considered a critical window of life that sets in motion a person’s intellectual development and lifelong health.

The importance of early education and the push to get more parents engaged earlier in their children’s academic and social development has become an important voice in the national dialogue.

President Obama has pushed for more funding for early childhood education, and many states have taken steps to create programs that increase access to early education, especially for low-income families, but we still have a long way to go to ensuring equal access to all demographics.

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine,” The American Obsession With Parenting,” points out that while parents of all income and education levels are spending more time promoting their kids’ development, socioeconomic gaps in childrearing behavior are growing.

Alicia Wong asserts that it’s good that parents at all income levels are taking it upon themselves to promote their child’s development. But the fact that affluent, well-educated parents — parents of children who already are well-equipped to succeed academically — are doing so at much higher rates is cause for concern — and action.

Wong writes:

Putting your 3-year-old in Kumon might be overdoing it. But reading her a few pages of Dr. Seuss before she goes to sleep? A simple, low-key way to stimulate her brain and help her thrive as a little human. Experts tend to agree that activities such as a few minutes of reading or telling stories daily, going over letters and numbers several times a week, and occasional trips to the zoo are key to promoting a young child’s development and preparing her academically.

The beauty of those kinds of parenting activities is that they don’t cost much, if any, money. The problem is that low-income parents still lag behind their more affluent peers when it comes to engaging in those behaviors. Economically disadvantaged parents, research shows, still spend far less time than their middle-class counterparts participating in developmentally stimulating activities with their children.

More than 85 percent of a baby’s brain weight will be formed by age three. Yet we spend 90 percent of our education dollars on children over age five. We know now that early childhood is foundational to later success in school and beyond. There are countless studies showing that children who start behind, stay behind.

Our county’s future well-being depends on developing baby’s brains and getting children ready for kindergarten.

With partnerships and working together with agencies and organizations like Early Head Start, the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County, Escambia County Healthy Start Coalition and the Area Housing Commission — people who have the knowledge and skills to provide responsive interactions — we can help to shape the physical structure of a child’s brain so that he or she will be fully able to learn now in school and in the years to come.