Early, Early Childhood

infant sxchu_planetka

In my last post, I used an example of infants on rafts floating down the river. We often make substantial efforts to do the ministry right in front of us. However, we often fail at Finding the Source of the issues we are trying to solve. Sometimes we need to ignore the urgent, so that we can focus on the important.

I listed the myriad of options when it comes to helping young children and older students. And while we have focused most of our efforts on elementary-age children, I fear that we are missing the mark.

For Maximum Impact, Find the Source

I have a colleague who makes a great case for one area that can have the biggest impact. This area, he says, is the source that can change the future of generational poverty.

We need to reach and train parents of children from before birth, up to at least two-years old.

Statistically, whether a child is ready for school at age 5 determines his future academic success or failure. And it’s common knowledge that in places like Allendale, many children are entering school already one to two years behind in their brain development.

Let’s be clear — I’m not talking about intense math and reading tutoring for toddlers. I’m not saying that kids need to be able to read fluently on day 1 of kindergarten. After all, Finland doesn’t begin formal education until age 7, and yet they have some of the highest literacy rates in the world (as I learned in this book about reading and literacy).

What I mean is that in cultures of generational poverty, most children’s brains are not prepared to absorb teaching. This preparation is not complicated, at least not to folks like you and me. It just means that parents need to talk to their babies, to cuddle and nurture them, to read to toddlers, to minimize exposure to television, and to get down on the floor and play with them. Conversation, cuddling, reading, and playing all develop and strengthen a young child’s brain.

These “common-knowledge” parenting principles have monumental effects on a child’s brain, but they must be taught. How much a child’s brain has been developed and prepared before he even reaches school determines the trajectory for his life.

This is the source that we must get to. Yes, we can work with “at-risk” students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. But at some point, we have to get to the source.

Early, Early Childhood

“All parents instinctively know how to care for their children, and prepare them for success.” Do you believe this? If so, you’re wrong.

We need to reach and teach parents (even before their child is born) the long-lasting value of conversation, reading, and play. Not just early childhood education, but early, early childhood.

This also means that we need to divert resources. As it is now, 90% of a child’s brain growth happens in the first 4 years of life. And yet, less than 10% of education funding goes to this age range.

Eric Jensen notes in Teaching With Poverty in Mind,

“Educational intervention has the potential to narrow or eliminate the socioeconomic performance gap, showing sustained (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1994) and cost-effect (Barnett, 1998) results. . . . Children exposed to high-quality early education, were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, or need special education, compared with similar children who did not have such exposure (Barnett, 1998).”

We can save money over the long haul if we focus on early childhood. Think about it — more people and money for early childhood now means fewer resources later for prisons, Medicaid, drug rehabilitation, etc.

Because if we’re talking about generational change, we can’t just save babies (and children and teenagers) from the flooding river of poverty. We need to figure out how to stop having to save babies (and children and teenagers).

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**image courtesy of planetka via sxc.hu


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  1. Early, Early Childhood | A Dangerous Question - March 27, 2013

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