Research shows that children who receive a good educational start between birth and age 5 are likely to do well in school. Academic success, in turn, gives them a better chance of growing into productive, contributing adults.
That's why high-quality early education matters and why several Minnesota preschool pilot programs merit support and replication. Early, encouraging returns from the programs set the stage for much-needed increased investment in quality early education.
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature allocated $6 million to give low-income parents $4,000 in annual assistance to help pay for high-quality care in St. Paul, north Minneapolis and the Blue Earth County/Nicollet County area. At the same time, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), developed with donations from state businesses, has supported or helped fund projects in those areas as well as the Wayzata school district.
Thanks to several public/private partnerships involving the University of Minnesota and other foundations, more day-care workers are learning how to introduce 3- and 4-year-olds to concepts that prepare them for kindergarten.
In St. Paul, an early education project is already showing progress. At-risk children from the North End and Frogtown neighborhoods who attended top-quality programs through MELF-supported scholarships have started school ahead of their peers from similar backgrounds. Several of the pilot efforts are training child-care providers and creating a rating system to help parents choose high-quality care.
Other school districts, child-care providers and parents can look to successful programs as examples and work together on behalf of little learners. Educators can keep track of the youngsters who are poorly prepared for kindergarten and find out more about their preschool experience. Then they can reach out to centers and individual providers to educate them about the expectations for kindergarten.
Providers can ask kindergarten teachers what their students need to know, then learn more about the most effective teaching tools. And parents can make early learning a top priority as they evaluate and select care for their children.
That's all part of changing attitudes about the care of young children. Whether children are at centers or in home care, they should be in a fun, safe, educationally stimulating environment.
The success of local programs makes the case for local government, business and foundations to step up and expand topnotch early education. More resources are needed for newer programs like the pilots and for established, effective programs such as Way to Grow, Early Childhood and Family Education and Head Start.
Too many adults still think of day care as babysitting, or simply a place to park youngsters while parents work. It should be much more.