Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC and participate in the 2012 Public Policy Forum sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC ). There were people at this forum from all over the United States, coming together to share NAEYC’s vision of excellence for early childhood education with the nation’s policy makers. Among the many things we learned is that President Obama’s 2012-13 budget proposal includes more federal dollars for early childhood education.
It was energizing and motivating to see so many people coming together with common concerns and goals for our children and families. It was interesting to hear what different states are doing to improve programs for young children. I learned that there are many more similarities than differences when it comes to the challenges families face in finding high-quality, affordable child care. Our NAEYC group spent the day on Capitol Hill visiting the Senate and House office buildings. I met with staff members from Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office, Senator Carl Levin’s office, and Representative Mike Rogers’s office. The whole process was an eye-opening experience. It was exhilarating for me to see the topic of early childhood education getting the focus and attention that has been needed for so long from our nation’s Capital. Finally, other people get it!
The time to invest in our children’s education is at birth; the first five years of life are critical for future success. In fact, one of NAEYC’s recommendations is “Close the Opportunity Gap from Birth to Prevent the Achievement Gap.” The shortage of good child care for infants and toddlers has become critical. If we wait until the preschool years and the early grades to “catch up,” we miss an opportunity to make a significant difference in their success in school and in the workplace for which society pays more in financial and other resources. Research shows how rapidly the brain is developing in the first three years. There are connections being made and “windows of opportunity” that, if not met, will never be met. It is most important for infants to have a trusted, nurturing relationship with the adults in their lives. Responsive caregiving and the consistency of primary caregivers lay the foundation to a quality beginning in life.
Another NAEYC recommendation that I fully support is to “Attract, Educate, and Retain High-Quality Early Childhood Teachers and Administrators.” Relationship-based child care is a key ingredient to a quality program. Children will thrive and learn new skills when they know their world is safe and predictable. This can only happen when they have continuity of care, and consistency throughout their days. Early childhood is a unique period that deserves teachers’ specialized knowledge and skills about how children develop and learn. It is critical that programs invest in their teachers’ training and ongoing staff development. Fair compensation and benefits are another way to retain quality teachers. It’s difficult to implement a quality program when there is high teacher turnover rate.
I had so many memorable experiences during the two days I was in DC. It was uplifting and motivating to be part of a large professional organization that shares the same goals for our children. The importance of the economic and societal benefits of high-quality early learning and development experiences for all young children, beginning at birth and continuing through the early grades, is better known and appreciated than ever before. It’s a good time to be an early childhood educator! I only hope the progress and forward movement continues!