Early Childhood Efforts Focus on Getting Kids Ready to Learn

Missy Riley

The CFO’s quarterly Funders Forum group continued its focus on early childhood issues with presentations this week from Missy Riley, director of Springfield Public Schools’ early childhood program, and Dana Carroll, with the Every Child Promise initiative.

As community leaders and school readiness advocates lay the groundwork in Springfield to make sure every child is ready to learn when he or she reaches kindergarten, one of the first steps is to create a common definition of what makes kids ready for school.

While many parents believe that means their kids know letters, numbers, shapes and colors, educators are increasingly focused on kids’ socio-emotional readiness. Can they follow two-step directions like “Please hang up your backpack and join us over here?” Do they get along with other kids? Can they use the bathroom by themselves? If kids demonstrate those types of characteristics, teachers can teach the letters, numbers, shapes, etc., more successfully, Riley said.

“Ninety percent of brain development happens before the age of five, so they are capable of learning these soft skills, but it’s not happening,” she said.
She talked about a number of successful collaborations between SPS and Head Start and SPS and private child-care providers. But those examples may affect 20 or so families at a time. The bigger goal is to develop a comprehensive plan to fund a more universal approach to school readiness, which is the goal of the Every Child Promise initiative.

The Funders Forum also received an update on the Healthy Half Pints program, which supports an afternoon milk break at seven elementary schools that have free- or reduced-lunch program rates of 50 to 65 percent. The fund is sufficient to expand the program through at least part of the 2014 school year. Funders Forum members agreed to add the early childhood Wonder Years program at Springfield Public Schools so those 300 children also will receive a daily milk break.

 

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