Finding the right model to prepare children for kindergarten

  • January 16, 2017
  • /   Reggie Dogan
  • /   studer-community-institute

The first three years are absolutely critical to the development of a child.

Development of the brain starts at conception and by a baby’s third birthday, the brain will have reached 80 percent of its adult size.

That’s why the quality of relationships and experiences during this critical time is so vital. It sets the stage for either a strong or weak foundation for all learning, health and behavior to follow.

At the Studer Community Institute, we are putting our focus and energy on the first three years of a child’s life, or as the experts call it, “the first 1,000 days.”

Mirroring national statistics, in Escambia County one in four young children live in poverty. As a result they face difficult challenges in development because of poorer nutrition and exposure to social and educational experiences that improve the brain.

The best chance to turn this around is during the first 1,000 days with a caring adult who tunes in, talks to and take the necessary steps to provide the foundation for academic success.

As part of my role in parent and community outreach, I want to find the right model to help parents and caregivers develop and use the best tools to help their children reach their developmental milestones.

Communication between an adult and a baby is essential. The number of words a child has when she enters kindergarten varies greatly, depending on early stimulation. Research has shown that poorer children hear three million fewer words than children of well-to-do families. The good news is that early intervention works.

Good prenatal care for every pregnant mother, home visits for every newborn, quality childcare and ongoing education for all families in those first thousand days can break the cycle of poverty and enable every child to live a life filled with hope an promise.

In efforts to find agencies and organizations that are making strides to develop strategies to assist mother and child, I found a new model in Pensacola.

The Community Drug and Alcohol Council, or CDAC, has begun using the Incredible Years project in Escambia County.

With more than 30 years of research, Incredible Years has been found to be effective in teacher and parent management skills, improving children’s social and emotional skills, school readiness and decreasing behavior problems.

Its goals is to deliver evidence-based programs and materials that develop positive parent-teacher-child relationships and assist in preventing and treating behavior problems and promoting social, emotional and academic success before a child becomes an adult.

In Escambia County, two project managers meet twice a week with a group of about 10 3- and 4- years olds at Forrest Creek and Oakwood Terrace apartments, both in which serve low-income, underserved families and children.

Their aim primarily is to assist children who don’t attend preschool or Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten programs in developing their social and emotional skills before they start kindergarten.

The Incredible Years Baby and BASIC Toddler programs target parents of children age 0 to 2. This program teaches parents to read their child’s cues, use effective verbal communication, and provide physical and visual stimulation.. The Basic Toddlers program also teaches a variety of positive and nurturing parenting skills.

Across the country and throughout Escambia County is an increased focus on early education and kindergarten readiness.

Among the goals of the Studer Community is to improve the community’s overall quality of life, and an important part that includes having children reading and prepared for school.

Decades of research show that investing in children at an early age pays incredible dividends over the course of a child’s lifetime.

Children who enter school with early skills, such as basic knowledge of math and reading, are more likely than their peers to experience later academic success.

Unfortunately nearly a third of children — 34 percent — entering kindergarten in Escambia County aren’t ready academically or socially for kindergarten, based on data analysis by the Florida Office of Early Learning.

That means one out of three children start behind in school, and research shows that they rarely, if ever, catch up.

More and more evidence is showing that investment in early education provides significant benefits to children, families and society as a whole, increasing economic growth and promoting greater opportunity over time.

Creating and maximizing on programs like Incredible Years is another important step in the right direction to engage parents and to promote children’s academic, social and emotional skills, which in the long haul improves our community’s quality of life.

Reaching and teaching children in their earliest years — both at home and at daycare or preschool — can help ensure that they get the healthy and strong start they need to begin school read to learn and grow.