Robert Fulghum wrote the book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” but I disagree. I think everything you need to know, you likely learned in preschool.

As a parent of three young children — and with a background in education — I feel like I am constantly doing everything I can to support them. My husband and I talk with them to expand their vocabularies and we read to them at every opportunity.

When our oldest was very young, we enrolled him in a Mother’s Morning Out program so he could develop emotionally, socially and, in many ways, academically — but not in the way most people think of when they think of education and academics. “Preschool” and “academics” may seem like two words that really do not go together, when, in fact, they do. I do not mean that Tyler was learning his ABCs and 123s; Tyler was learning about the world around him through meaningful communication between his peers and his teachers; he was learning through book reading (dialogic, interactive and shared book-reading experiences) and through developmental play. Highly qualified preschool teachers understand these things because it is their job to know about your child.

At playgroups, parks, and outside of elementary classrooms, I hear parents who want the best opportunities for their children to succeed. I also read every day how people want to prevent high school dropout rates or how there are not enough students attending college. I’ve also had parents ask whether or not that preschool tuition bill is worth the money they are spending each month. For all of these questions, I can hear Julie Andrews singing, “Let’s start at the very beginning / A very good place to start / When you read you begin with A-be-see.” This line from “The Sound of Music” illustrates nicely the importance of early childhood education in the lives of young children and the impact it has on our community.

High quality early education benefits children by preparing them for later academic success. Research has unequivocally demonstrated that learning starts in infancy, the time before any formal school begins. The earliest years of the child’s life are the most crucial for brain development and later academic success. However, not all experiences for children are the same. Research shows that by age 3 children from professional families will have heard 30 million more words than children from high-poverty homes. These early differences can last a lifetime. Research has demonstrated that scores on tests at age 9 showed a strong correlation with their word use at age 3. High-quality preschool programs can support and promote social and emotional skills affecting children’s IQs.

 

The Economics of Early Childhood Education

Did you know that quality early childhood education programs do quite a bit to boost our economy and support the vitality of our community? High-quality preschool programs offer lasting effects on our economy by strengthening our human capital and our future economic and fiscal outcomes. Economist Rick Harper said that for every dollar invested in a high-quality early learning program, it returns $7 to $10 to the local economy. Several outcomes occur when children do not attend a high-quality preschool program.

Those children are:

25 percent more likely to drop out of school;

40 percent more likely to become a teen parent;

50 percent more likely to be placed in special education;

60 percent more likely never to attend college;

70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

With our growing economic competitiveness, and with our need to be able to compete globally, our community will need a highly skilled and educated workforce — and our youngest population of children can be ready to meet those challenges if we support them now. When considering a high-quality learning center for your child, consider these criteria:

The Child’s Learning Environment. High-quality learning environments are free of clutter, have a range of experiences or centers for the children to engage in and a great deal of books and/or words.

Outstanding Teachers. High-quality teachers have supporting relationships with children. They interact with the children often by modeling acceptable language and communication techniques while supporting the children socially and emotionally.

Partnerships with Families. High-quality programs involve the parents and value them as partners in their child’s emotional and social development.

 

To support early learning in your community, contact the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County. In October, the coalition will host its annual Title Town Hoedown Bar-B-Que Showdown to support early learning in our community. The event includes a barbecue competition, silent auction, raffle, live music and more. To get involved on a state level, contact the Children’s Movement of Florida.