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The importance of Early Learning | GUEST OPINION
Washington State’s Early Learning Plan is a renewed effort to improve the services for our youngest learners. The vision statement, developed in 2010 as a collaborative effort between state and local stakeholders, captures the overarching purpose of the Washington State Early Learning Plan.
“In Washington, we work together so that all children start life with a solid foundation for success based on strong families and a world-class early learning system for all children prenatal through third grade. Accessible, accountable, and developmentally and culturally appropriate, our system partners with families to ensure that every child is healthy, capable, and confident in school and in life.”
The principles of the Washington State Early Learning Plan are grounded in research and are designed to serve all children from prenatal through third grade. The plan calls for schools, government agencies, health care providers, private childcare providers, and community groups to come together to build a comprehensive, accessible early learning system that will serve families and children in all capacities.
As a district, we are working diligently to address our areas of responsibility. District goals include increasing communication with families, strengthening partnerships with community childcare and healthcare providers, continual staff professional development, improving identification of children who qualify for birth to 5 programs, and aligning prekindergarten through third grade instructional and programmatic practices. In addition to serving our kindergarten through third grade students, the district has the following services available for our birth to 5-year-old population.
- APPLE Preschool (Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) — the primary goal of the program is to help children and families get ready for kindergarten. Children are accepted into the program based on age and family income.
- Birth to 3 Special Programs — the district contracts with area providers to support children under the age of 3 who qualify for Special Education services.
- Developmental Preschool — housed at Presidents Elementary, this district-wide program serves preschoolers, ages 3 and older that qualify under state guidelines for Special Education services. These services may include academics, social-emotional, speech and language, as well as both occupational and physical therapy.
There is little dispute about the importance of investing in early learning and the long-term outcomes that result. Scientists have proven that the human brain develops more rapidly between birth and age five than during any other subsequent period. Capitalizing on this window of opportunity and exposing young children to constant and varied experiences is very likely to set the course for a successful school career and beyond.
Outside of formal preschool experiences, there are many things parents can do to help their child prepare for kindergarten. The Washington Department of Early Learning (del.wa.gov) is just one resource that has a wealth of information for families. Below is a snapshot of items found on the site’s kindergarten readiness checklist:
- Visit your child’s school prior to the start of kindergarten so they know where to find the office, the restrooms, and their classroom.
- Listen to your child’s feelings about kindergarten and answer their questions.
- Invite other children to your home so your child will know how to play with friends.
- Encourage your child to think of solutions to their problems.
- Teach your child their full name, address, phone number and parents’ and/or caregivers’ names.
- Provide your child with plenty of chances each day to use their hands to do things like button a shirt, tie a knot and use crayons or scissors.
Educating our children is the world’s most important work, and the Arlington School District is committed to providing a strong start for all children so that they may finish strong.
Terri Bookey, Director of Grants and Early Learning for the Arlington School District, can be reached by calling 360-618-6210 or via email at email@example.com.