Imagine a teacher who works with your child in the classroom and at your home. Early Head Start teachers provide that support, and foster parent Linda sees the benefits for her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie.
“Gracie had a lot of problems and came from a bad circumstance. She needs that extra time instead of putting her in kindergarten or first grade,” Linda says. “She would fall through the cracks.
“She was basically with adults all her life until she went for school last fall, so it was hard for her to make friends. Gracie is working on social behaviors. She doesn’t know how to deal with children.
“I like so much that Early Head Start gives the kids words to express how they feel. Gracie was real shy, and she’s opened up. Her vocabulary has opened up,” Linda says. “With the teacher coming to the house twice a month and spending quality time with Gracie, she talks more.”
Like Gracie, children’s early experiences, positive or negative, shape the architecture of their brains. Our brains create the capacity to learn in the first few years of life. Brain research shows that 85 percent of our brain connections are hardwired before we enter public school. These connections are determined by the interactions and relationships that we encounter during the earliest years.
Parents, caregivers and family members are the most important teachers in the child’s life. Their interactions motivate and stimulate the child to help them engage early in life. If a child does not receive the healthy interactions and support of adults, it is more likely that he or she will fail socially and economically later in their life.
By the time a child is 11 months old, their world view template – the foundation of every human’s personality – has formed in the brain, according to Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading researcher in brain development and child maltreatment. We would hope that the template developing in every infant is that their world is a good place with safe and loving people who will help them learn and navigate.
We all know, however, that this is not always true. Yet, one person developing a nurturing and caring relationship with the child can mitigate the effects of growing up in chaotic, unpredictable or unsafe environments.
With a current focus on school readiness, our nation and communities are looking at supporting early education. High-quality early childhood education programs increase childhood literacy and high school graduation rates, not to mention reducing crime and teen pregnancy rates. As a result, children are coming to school ready to learn and be successful.
In addition, every public dollar spent on preschool returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice, according to the Children’s Learning Institute. Intervention now reduces costs later. That’s why funding for home visiting programs is being increased, as is funding for Early Head Start in child care partnerships.
Gracie’s mom says, “I knew I wanted Gracie to attend Early Head Start because I wanted her to get a step up. I’ve seen other children struggle in kindergarten because they don’t catch on. How many times have they failed? But our classrooms are so small and our children get all that attention.”
There are a number of programs in our community to support parent/caregiver knowledge of development. Our community has many resources to enhance or strengthen parenting skills or overcome barriers to successful parenting. Read about local resources here.
Early education is important for all of us. It benefits our children’s education reduces the need for intervention, builds stronger communities and saves money in the long run. As Gracie’s mom says, “It’s a program that I’d like every child to attend.”
Cheri Peterson is the Early Head Start director for Head Start of Lane County. Contact Early Head Start at 541-747-2425 or visit hsolc.org. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education.