Research shows that a child’s healthy development depends on safe and positive experiences during the first few years of life. This is primarily because of the rapid rate of human brain development from infancy until the time a child enters kindergarten. The brain grows to about 80 percent of its adult size by age three and 90 percent by age five. This critical phase of development makes the experiences encountered during this time of life—both positive and negative—particularly important for developing children and the adults who care for them.
Parents must endeavor to expose young children to high-quality learning experiences that are essential to social, emotional, and cognitive development. Such experiences ultimately shape a child’s academic achievement. Parents, caregivers, and child care providers can create environments for young children that allow opportunities for exploration and social play. They simply need the tools and information necessary to create those experiences and environments.
Positive connections between parent and child are the catalyst for the prelanguage and cognitive skills needed for learning. Sensitive, responsive, and predictable care has a profound effect on the emotional well-being and problem-solving ability of young children. In an age of high-tech gadgets and twenty-four-hour television programming for children, adults can easily overlook simple yet vital aspects of parenting and caregiving, such as spending time connecting to a child through singing, reading, and play. Infants who are frequently spoken to in conversational tones have higher IQs and do better in school than those who hear language primarily from television or when being given commands.
Talk to infants while they are being fed and when they are being dressed. Describe the colors of the clothing they are wearing and the parts of the body each article is covering. Narrate the details of daily living to them. This basic interaction introduces new words and sounds that will help them develop language skills and increase their vocabulary when they are toddlers. Immersing children in language-rich environments begins at home, and it should be continued when they are in the care of high-quality child care providers.
Parents can easily find and create activities for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. At each phase of this critical development period, young children need to be read to frequently and given opportunities to play. When a child is interested and involved in an activity—and having fun—learning is taking place.
Sitting down to “learn” a concept by rote repetition or some complicated methodology is neither necessary nor helpful for very young children. Formal classes and other activities that push toddlers to learn concepts before they are ready do not speed their development or make them perform better in school. Sometimes this approach actually has the opposite effect, making children feel like failures when they are pushed to do something they cannot yet accomplish or do not enjoy. Children should spend their early years playing, exploring, and being in the company of others.
Families should understand the needs of the developing child when seeking early learning environments. Expensive toys and state-of-the art equipment are useful tools, but they are not essential to building the language, preliteracy, and self-regulation skills that are critical to school readiness. Early learning providers should be nurturing and responsive to all the children in their care, and the children should have access to a variety of toys and enjoyable activities.
For information on creating and finding high-quality early learning environments, contact the State Child Care Resource and Referral Office at 1-866-357-3239.
Early learning coalitions, or ELCs, are nonprofit organizations approved by the state to implement a comprehensive program of school readiness services that enhance the cognitive, social, and physical development of children from birth to age five. All services administered by early learning coalitions have the goal of preparing children with the skills they need to be ready and eager to learn in kindergarten. There are 30 early learning coalitions representing all of Florida’s 67 counties.
Services administered by early learning coalitions include the following:
This service offers qualified income-eligible parents financial assistance for child care through a variety of services. Child care services include extended-day, extended-year, and school-age care to help parents become financially self-sufficient. Qualified families must be employed or enrolled in school a minimum of twenty hours per week and earn an annual gross income that is 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less.
This service is a free educational program that prepares four-year-olds for success in kindergarten and beyond. Children must live in Florida and be four years old on or before September 1 of the current year to be eligible. There is no income requirement for VPK, and families may choose from a variety of registered VPK providers.
This service helps families identify quality child care and early education programs by providing a customized, unbiased list of local child care providers based on the family’s specific child care needs. The service is free for any family living in or preparing to move to Florida.
This set of services supports the inclusion of children with special needs in quality early childhood programs by ensuring child care providers and parents have access to expertise and knowledge for successful inclusion.
This service is provided to child care centers by ELC staff to help create learning environments that are developmentally appropriate and designed to foster learning through play. For more information, contact your local ELC, visit www.floridaearlylearning.com, or call Florida’s Office of Early Learning at 1-866-357-3239.
As part of a concerted national effort by experts in the fields of economics, national security, and education to promote school readiness for children entering kindergarten, Florida has enacted its own readiness program. The Florida School Readiness Program offers financial assistance to low-income families for early education and care so they can become financially self-sufficient and their young children can be successful when they reach school.
Florida’s School Readiness Program provides the following benefits:
• Prepares young children to start kindergarten ready to learn
• Helps working families afford quality early learning services
• Keeps parents in the work force or participating in educational activities
• Recognizes parents as a child’s first teacher
• Provides parents information about child development and family well-being
Because of individual differences in development, there will always be a variation in the abilities and skills of children entering school; however, providing children with an array of hands-on, play-based, child-directed activities builds the foundation they need to enter kindergarten ready and eager to learn. Florida’s School Readiness Program makes a high-quality early learning environment available to children who are most at risk of remediation and academic failure. A cost-benefit analysis by the National Institutes of Health Investing shows that putting one dollar into an early education program for children from low-income families generates from $4 to $11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime. l