Children start to develop powerful cognitive capabilities, complex emotions, and essential social skills in the earliest years. Jack P. Shonkoff of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health writes, “[B]y 12 months of age, the human brain can differentiate all the sounds of the spoken language(s) to which it has been exposed.…Thus, learning at age 2 builds on what was mastered at age 1 and, in turn, lays the continuing foundation for what will be learned at age 3 and beyond.”
As reported on EducationWeek by Sarah Sparks, “Studies find that even this early [6-12 months], infants who later have poor pre-literacy skills in kindergarten and poor reading skills in school can show less mature brain activity in these speech and sound networks.”
How children are raised during these early years will significantly influence the type of person they will become. Thus, it is imperative that we provide children with an early life that will prepare them to live in our society. That requires that we make provisions for early childhood education for children who will not receive it at home.
Quality preschool and early learning centers are desperately needed to fill this void. Here’s why: The Perry Preschool Project (a longitudinal study that compares at risk 3- and 4-year olds who attended preschool with those who did not) found that children in intensive high-quality preschool programs:
- Were more likely to graduate from high school.
- Were more likely to have a job.
- Had significantly higher earnings.
- Had a significantly higher rate of home and car ownership, and had a savings account.
- Were less likely to use sedatives, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, or drugs.
- Had significantly fewer arrests, and were less likely to be arrested for violent crimes or for property or drug crimes.
- Had savings in crime costs (for example, males in the program cost the public 41 percent less in crime cost per person).
The best solution is not to establish a new federal or state early childhood program, but to assist the existing institutions that provide these services. Organizations such as the YMCA, the Salvation Army, and similar nonprofit organizations already have extensive programs serving this need.
Don Nielsen, program chair to ACTE, states, “A possible way of encouraging the establishment or expansion of such programs would be to give a preschool voucher to parents living in poverty. The voucher would be designed to cover 80–90 percent of the preschool costs. Not funding all of the costs would ensure that parents had to put up some minimal amount of money to get their child enrolled.”
Parents who have “skin in the game” will be more selective and demanding regarding where they choose to enroll their child.
What this boils down to is that quality preschool or early learning centers is not only the right thing to provide; it is an essential element to insuring the effective education of every child.
As Nielsen concludes, “As a society, we need to look at education not as a K–12 system, but as a program of child development that goes from birth until the child is capable of becoming a productive citizen.”