Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Playing Or Paying? The Value Of Early Childhood Education

Source: Sesame Workshop (click for detail)
One potential victim of January's fiscal cliff is Head Start, the early education program for children from low income families. Rarely mentioned in the budget debates are the $590 million dollars that Head Start could lose in federal funding.

Our school here in New York maintains a relationship with two area Head Start programs. Each December, our students visit the centers to play games and sing holiday songs. Our middle-schoolers build toys in the wood shop, bake gingerbread cookies, hand-print wrapping paper, and stuff envelopes with crafts to spend the day with classes of 3-to-5-year-olds. Our students come back with lively stories, but even more so, they come back with a recognition of the disparate nature of "school." It's not just the physical differences between buildings, but it's also the realization of space and resources -- and the critical significance of early education.

Head Start began as an initiative from President Lyndon Johnson's War On Poverty. It has grown through sequentially updated federal grants overseen by the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start programs annually reach one million children in inner-city or rural areas.

Source: Citizen Action Of New York
Head Start's crucial mission is to promote school readiness and social and cognitive development through a host of early childhood services. Startlingly, though, several recent Congressional budget proposals have slashed its funding. The risk of the fiscal cliff also holds drastic implications for tens of thousands of children who would lose their access and their teachers.

Source: The Urban Child Institute
Some voices still argue whether the cost of high-quality early education is worth the financial trade-off. Other advocates for homeschooling declare that preschool exposes children to inconsistent discipline and undermines the parent-child bond. A recent New York Times column from Nicholas D. Kristof even explores the extent to which Appalachian families may intentionally avoid early schooling in order to keep their children illiterate and, therefore, receive government disability checks.

Source: W.K. Kellogg Foundation (click for detail)
Most educators, however, agree that early childhood education is more vital now than ever. The dynamic world of social interactions and linguistic guidance means that children can thrive under the stewardship of an experienced teacher. A well-intentioned dialogue does exist about the proper balance between play and academics in the early grades. Most agree, however, that the best teachers bring an invaluable toolkit of imaginative educational ideas to inspire young minds and aid in the joy of discovery.

Here we've gathered a collection of infographics that sum up the current state of early learning. Also, check out this video by designer Alena 'Ash' Heath for First Five Years Fund, an organization dedicated to achieving "better results in education, health, and economic productivity through investments in quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children from birth to age five." The organization even has a customizable toolkit to engage local media and Congresspeople in expressing support for early education up against the financial cliff.


Early Learning Matters from Alena 'Ash' Heath on Vimeo.

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