Why National Poetry Month is Important for Children

April is National Poetry Month, which may seem silly and perhaps even frivolous with everything else going on in the early childhood education space, but it’s actually quite important.

Started in 1996 by the National Academy of Poets, the stated goal of the month was to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • encourage the reading of poems
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and
  • encourage support for poets and poetry.

Poetry often employs the use of rhyme and rhythm – helpful especially to young children still learning to build language and comprehension skills! It also allows children to use their creativity to discuss subjects of interest to them in a fun way that can help them learn to love reading, and can even be used as a great exercise for English language learners.

Some resources and ideas to help you celebrate poetry during National Poetry Month and throughout the year:

Child Care Leaders Address 2015 Child Care Aware® of America Annual Meeting and Conference

Child Care Aware® of America’s (CCAoA) 2015 annual meeting and conference in Washington, D.C. brought together child care providers, CCR&Rs, and leaders from government agencies and the White House to address many issues including Early Head Start and Child Care Partnerships, implementation of CCDBG, CCAoA’s strategic planning, and cultural competency in family engagement.

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Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Early Childhood Education, Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), addressed annual meeting attendees. Photo by Steve Barrett.

We were so fortunate to have Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Early Childhood Education, Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and Rachel Schumacher, Director of the Office of Child Care, join us on day one of our annual meeting! Smith kicked off the events on Monday morning with her opening keynote on opportunities and challenges affecting the child care community and potential changes coming down the road, while Schumacher spoke later that afternoon about CCDBG implications for the early childhood community generally and for CCR&R’s specifically. It was a great discussion with questions from attendees on how these issues would affect their communities.

Day one also included a presentation by Shannon Moodie and Manica Ramos with Child Trends on the report “Culture Counts: Engaging Black and Latino Parents of Young Children in Family Support Programs”. Presenters offered tips and resources on how to engage parents from diverse communities in child care and early learning settings – something many attendees in the audience had questions about and perspectives to share after their presentation.

A panel on Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership included Dr. Cheri Vogel from Mathematica, Steve Rohde from the Maryland Family Network, and Dr. Walter Gilliam of the Child Study Center at Yale University and a CCAoA board member. Panelists discussed the issues and core competencies that support partnerships between Early Head Start and Child Care providers.

For those in attendance on Monday afternoon, Dr. Abby Thorman of Thorman Strategy Group facilitated a discussion to get membership input on CCAoA’s evolving Strategic Plan. Members will have more opportunities to engage – be on the lookout for more opportunities to share your ideas and perspectives as we all look forward to embracing new goals and objectives for the future later this year when we release the final plan.

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Left to right: current board president L. Carol Scott, Ph.D., CCAoA Executive Director Lynette Fraga, Ph.D., and president-elect Steve Rohde. Photo by Steve Barrett.

Please join us in congratulating Steve Rohde, Deputy Director for Resource and Referral Services of the Maryland Family Network, on his successful election to the position of president-elect of the CCAoA board of directors!

Rohde has been a preschool classroom teacher, a child care center director, a child care specialist with municipal and county licensing programs, a trainer, and a county and state administrator for licensing. He has a Bachelors and Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Towson University, and was also adjunct faculty with Stevenson University (formerly Villa Julie College) for five years.

His expertise and leadership will be a great asset to the Child Care Aware® of America board. We are looking forward to him joining us at the next board meeting in May.

Two of our newest board members Ann McCully and Tonja Rucker were also on-hand for the annual meeting, and participated in the discussion and events. You can learn more about them, and another recent addition to CCAoA board leadership, online.

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Roberto Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President on education gave the keynote luncheon address. Photo by Steve Barrett.

Day two of the annual meeting and conference began with Linda K. who spoke about understanding the new landscape of early learning systems during the morning session, with a luncheon keynote from Roberto Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President on education.

In his role advising the White House on education and early learning policy, Rodriguez said to attendees, “A child’s zip code should not be a predetermining factor in the opportunities he or she has to grow and succeed.” We at Child Care Aware® of America couldn’t agree more!

In a fantastic exchange of ideas, attendees participated in our first open session, where groups gathered to talk about issues they were most interested in. The open forums then reported out at the closing session on Tuesday afternoon on some of their key takeaways.

If you missed the 2015 annual meeting and conference, we’ve got you covered! Check out our Facebook album for pictures from the event, start to finish.

And be sure to keep an eye out for details on the spring 2016 symposium! Plans are currently in the works for this big event, to be held in Washington, D.C.

President Obama visits the Sunflower State to Talk about Quality, Affordable Child Care

By: Leadell Ediger, Executive Director, Child Care Aware of Kansas:

When an email from the White House came into my inbox, I paid attention!  That’s the situation I found myself in, in mid-January.  I was delighted to find that Child Care Aware® of Kansas was being offered two tickets to attend the President’s Remarks at the University of Kansas.   It really didn’t take me more than 2 minutes to look at my calendar and send a quick response back to the White House, stating Absolutely!  Much to my surprise, on Wednesday (the day before the President’s visit) we were offered another seven tickets!  Of course I said we’d take them.  Within a matter of one hour, I called the CCR&Rs in Kansas, two child care center directors and one high school teacher to extend the offer.  All 7 people immediately said “YES”!

Dean Olson (The Family Conservancy), Elaine Edwards (center director) Deb Crowl (center director), Leadell Ediger (CCR&R Network Director), Cheryl Firsching (Child Start), Amanda Ediger (High school teacher), Angie Saenger (CCR&R Network), Tanya Koehn (CCR&R Network).

Dean Olson (The Family Conservancy), Elaine Edwards (center director) Deb Crowl (center director), Leadell Ediger (CCR&R Network Director), Cheryl Firsching (Child Start), Amanda Ediger (High school teacher), Angie Saenger (CCR&R Network), Tanya Koehn (CCR&R Network).

From the email from the White House, I learned that there was a specific procedure to picking up the tickets, so off to Lawrence, Kansas, we went on Wednesday afternoon.  The pickup time was between 4 – 6 pm.  We got there at 5 and waited an hour to get our 9 precious tickets.  Much discussion took place because we got a “red” ticket, versus a “green” or a “white” ticket, how close to the front would we actually be?

Thursday morning dawned quite chilly in Lawrence, Kansas but an electric feel was in the air when we snaked our way through the waiting line.   We made arrangements to meet one of our colleagues from the Kansas City area outside the arena where the event was being held; luckily I got his cell phone number just to be safe.  Standing was the name of the game that day, standing outside in the cold, standing for 3 hours inside waiting and standing, applauding, cheering for a short 35 minute window when the President spoke.  What an exciting 35 minutes though!  When the President finally made his entrance, we were within 30 feet of him and had perfect viewing!

Front: Deb Crowl, Cheryl Firsching, Leadell Ediger Middle row: Elaine Edwards, Tanya Koehn, Dean Olson Back row: Reva Wywadis and Angie Saenger

Front: Deb Crowl, Cheryl Firsching, Leadell Ediger
Middle row: Elaine Edwards, Tanya Koehn, Dean Olson
Back row: Reva Wywadis and Angie Saenger

President Obama strolled in with his shirt sleeves rolled up, ready to go!  It was very obvious, the President knows how to excite a crowd, and he did so by starting off with saying “he’s a Kansas boy”.  This statement got a big roar from the crowd.  Yes, the President has deep roots in Kansas.  He then shared his message, that middle-class economics should be the focus!  This included a healthy discussion about child care!   After listening only days before to the State of the Union address, I knew he had big plans to strengthen child care, but again in Lawrence the President said “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us”, which brought, again, a huge roar from the crowd.  During this short address, I heard the President’s passion for young children and their working families.  His persistence and dedication to wanting to help the middle-class and how much he values and supports, not only early learning, but learning for all!  He showed his impatience to get the job done.  An added bonus for me and something I didn’t expect to see was his delightful humor.

After the speech, the President interacted with the crowd by shaking many hands.  Because we were so close to the stage, before he left the auditorium he shook the hands of four of the nine early childhood folks that went with us!   This clearly will be a day that we’ll remember for years to come.

 

The Tragic Truth About Vehicular Heatstroke

You’ve seen it on the news. Every year as temperatures across the country rise, quiet children are forgotten in hot cars. The result is serious injury or death and families that are changed forever.

Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.

Image via Safe Kids Worldwide

Vehicular heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger. Heatstroke has claimed the lives of 606 children from 1998 – 2013. Forty-four children died in 2013 alone. In 2014, there have already been eighteen deaths. With hyperthermia deaths occurring 11 months out of the year, that number will almost certainly rise. The good news is that these deaths are preventable.

What’s the number one cause of child vehicular heatstroke? Forgotten child care dropoff. The truth is that the majority of children who fall victim to heatstroke have the most loving and responsible of parents. The terrifying fact is that this mistake could happen to anyone… Even you.

Everyone has days where their thinking is distracted. If you’ve ever jumped in the car and reached your destination in what seems like record time, it’s probably because part of your brain set itself on “auto-pilot.” This is an instinctive reaction, a function of the primitive side of the brain, and can happen for any number of reasons. You could be sleep-deprived, stressed, doing too many things all at once or all three. So your brain sets your body in motion. Normally, your husband drops your baby off at child care. So on the day of his six-month dental cleaning, the same day your water heater goes on the fritz, the same day you’re running late to work because the baby spit up on your first outfit, is the same day your brain clicks to autopilot and allows you to drive past the turn to your child care provider’s home without a moment’s hesitation.

If you’re lucky, you’ve already made an absence verification plan with your provider and she calls you the moment your baby fails to show up for care. This simple phone call could save your baby’s life. The alternative is too horrific to imagine. I urge you to take the time to set up a plan right now. And follow these steps to prevent vehicular heatstroke from happening to another child:

  • NEVER leave a child alone in a car—not with the windows down, not with the car running, not even for a minute.
  • Remember that children overheat up to five times faster than adults. Heatstroke can happen even on mild or cloudy days.
  • Always check your backseat before you lock your car. Simple habits like keeping your purse or cell phone in the backseat are great ways to ensure a quiet child is never forgotten in your car.
  • Thirty percent of children who died of vehicular heatstroke gained access to an unlocked car and then trapped themselves inside. Never leave a vehicle unlocked and teach children never to play in or around cars.
  • Use technology to your advantage. The Kars4Kids Safety App, is a free, downloadable app that works with Bluetooth-enabled cars. The minute you and your phone leave the car, an alarm goes off reminding you to yes, check your backseat.
  • Watch our archived heat safety webinar for more prevention tips.
  • If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check that your child has arrived at their destination safely.
  • Visit safercar.gov/heatstroke for fact sheets, flyers, and other helpful heatstroke awareness materials.
  • For more information, visit the Safe Kids Worldwide page or check out these resources from the Administration for Children and Families.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, take action immediately. Don’t wait for the driver to return. If the child appears to be in distress, call 911 immediately.

Don’t let another child fall victim to heatstroke.  Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle and always check the backseat.

Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

Beyond Appreciation…Gratitude for our Nation’s Child Care Providers

Editor’s note: In honor of Provider Appreciation Day, today’s post shares a personal account of how Lynette’s child care provider supported her son and family in a time of crisis.

It was a few days after my son’s second birthday. The day began, hurried as most and late as usual. I was doing my best to reach the office by 9AM.  I hadn’t quite mastered the art of juggling of work and parenthood (Do we ever? Perhaps that’s a question for another blog). But, I remember enjoying our time together after settling into the car for our 20 minute commute to his child care provider. It was our special time…talking and singing to our favorite music on the radio.

My search for a child care provider was typical of many….looking through lists, asking lots of questions, and trying to find the right person to partner with in the nurturing of my son while his father and I were at work.  With extended family on the opposite coast, we desperately needed and depended on the right person.  After two months, we found her.  The sleepless nights were over and I began to breathe again.

This particular morning went smoothly.  I arrived at her home, chatted a few minutes about how my son interacted the previous night and about our morning commute.  I gave him a big kiss good-bye and was off to the second phase of my trip to work.  I  enjoyed my daily ride on the Metro; it provided helpful transition time to recalibrate from being a mommy to a manager. Crossing the river from Virginia to DC was a symbolic bridge between family and work.

When I arrived to the office emotions were running high.  I had no idea what was going on.  A group of my colleagues were gathered around a workstation with the radio on.  There had been a plane; it hit a tower in Manhattan. Soon a plane would hit the Pentagon…very close to home.  It was about 9:20 AM,  September 11, 2001.

The rest of the day was a blur.  The phones weren’t working, and we couldn’t reach anyone.  The trains were shut down, and there was no way to get back across the river into Virginia.  There were rumors of more attacks, explosions, threats.  I couldn’t reach my son.  I couldn’t reach him…

After what seemed like days, I finally was able to reach her.  She was so calm, so reassuring.  “He’s fine, don’t worry,” she said. ” We are all playing and eating and we are fine.  He is safe and loved.”

At that moment, when I needed her most, when he needed her most, during one of the most challenging days in our nation’s history, my child care provider held both my son and I in her heart and in her arms.

I finally made it to her home and to my son several hours later.  He was happy, safe and sound. That night I put my son to bed squeezing him tight and holding him for hours.

I will always remember the feeling of not being able to reach him at a moment of crisis; to hold and protect him.  I will always be grateful for the woman who welcomed us into her home and family and who we welcomed into ours.

The effects of that September day lasted for weeks, months, and for many of us, for years. Now 14 years old, my son still talks about her. It is clear she made such an impact on him.  Mostly he remembers the nurturance, care and affection she provided him. For that I am forever grateful.

On this Provider Appreciation Day I hope everyone says a word of gratitude to the special child care provider in their life.  I still do!

Full text, Ann O’Leary’s opening keynote at 2014 Symposium

This blog is republished from the Next Generation blog dated April 2.

NOTE: The remarks below were delivered by Ann O’Leary on April 2, 2014 when she opened the 2014 Child Care Aware of America Symposium on early education policy, research, and practice. 

_SB11777Child Care Aware America 3.02.14 Barrett

Thank you Lynette for inviting me here today and to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, led by Linda Asato, for encouraging me to join you.  And thank you to Linda Smith for your leadership inside the government to make quality child care a priority.

Lynette told you a bit about my professional background, but let me tell you how my professional background aided me in being a mother and a child care consumer.

In 1997, just after the Child Care Development Block Grant was last updated, I started working on education, early learning and childcare policy in the Clinton Administration.  It was such an exciting time because it was when we were learning about how rapidly the brain was growing in the first years of life and how much these early years really mattered.  I personally learned at that time about the importance of talking to your baby from the earliest days and about how challenging it was for parents to get access to high-quality child care.

Ten years later – in 2007 – I had my first child.  And it was these professional credentials that had me calling up child care providers to get on the wait list just after telling my friends and family the news that I was expecting.  I remember going to the National Education of Young Children (NAEYC’s) website to find which child care centers in my area were NAEYC certified.

The former director of the infant/toddler program at my chosen preschool in Berkeley still tells the story of me showing up at her doorstep every day when I was nine+ months pregnant to find out if I’d be able to get off the wait list.  She finally was so worried that I was showing up at her doorstep every day instead of getting some rest before the baby came, that she relented and gave me a spot.  My daughter, now seven, was lucky to be able to attend the school for five years and my son, who is four years old, is still there.

Everything about my experience is something I wish for all parents.  To be able to search online for a quality child care center and really know that licensing or certification means something.  It means that the center is safe, the child care providers are professionals who have real training to work with young children, and that together you’ll be able to work as a team to support your child’s development and early learning.

But I also want families to benefit from some of the things that schools don’t offer, but that states should provide to families as child care consumers. States should do unannounced inspections so that they can find small and larger things for the school to correct—from ensuring that parents really do sign in and sign out our children, to ensuring that the school has appropriate safeguards on all the doors so that children can’t get out without an adult.

Together, the school—with its amazing focus on child-centered learning and the scaffolding children need to develop in these early years—and the basic promises made to ensure that licensing means my child will be safe while my husband and I are at work, is what every parent deserves.

Everyone needs and deserves minimum levels of safety and quality standards.  And YOU are making sure that is happening.  I applaud you wholeheartedly for what you have done to ensure passage of the Child Care Development Block Grant in the Senate and the work you are doing in the House to make these critical changes the law of the land.

CHALLENGES

When we started Too Small to Fail, which is a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of our youngest children, we really looked hard at what we know about children today and what we knew about the investments needed to address the challenges faced by children.

We were motivated by three big challenges:

  1. That we have a changing demographic in America that makes the educational achievement gap between minorities and whites no longer just a civil rights issue, but an issue that must be addressed as an economic imperative;
  2. That more than a quarter of our children—which is a doubling from the early 1990s—now have a chronic health condition from asthma to autism to obesity.
  3. That despite important investments in poverty alleviation, we still have persistently high childhood poverty and poverty still remains that best indicator of a child’s educational success.

But we were also incredibly motivated by what we saw as a tipping point moment in the early learning field.  Because today, we know more than ever about the importance of early education.

Brain scientists have documented what we have long intuited: talking, hugging, singing, and playing build critical hardware in a baby’s brain.

Leading economists tell us that investments in the early years provide a tremendous return. The likelihood of a child achieving success in school and in the workforce is largely set before her first day of kindergarten.

We have better and more sophisticated ways of reaching parents than every before thanks to technology and behavioral science.

WORD GAP

We were also very struck by the important new research coming from Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam. Dr. Putnam is studying today how economic pressures on parents translate into less time and support for kids who start off behind and struggle to catch up.  In the 1960s and ‘70s, parents with different income and educational achievement levels were all spending similar amounts of time reading to their children, but over time, a gap emerged.  Dr. Putnam and his team have looked at what they call “Diaper Time,” when parents address the immediate needs of their young children, and they’ve also looked at what they call “Good Night Moon Time,” when they talk, read, and interact with their kids.

Now the research shows that nearly everyone does Diaper Time. But parents with lower income, less education, who struggle to work two jobs with few benefits or flexibility—many of them single moms, and parents without strong support networks—they are spending significantly less Good Night Moon Time each day than more affluent families and less than parents in comparable positions did 30 and 40 years ago.  This lost time adds up.

You all know that children build their vocabularies by listening to and interacting with their parents and caregivers, and by age four, children from low income families with less Good Night Moon Time have learned, on average, half as many words as children from middle and upper income families, so that by the time they enter school, they have substantially smaller vocabularies than many of their classmates.  Experts call this the “word gap.”

Studies have found that by a child’s fourth birthday, children in well-off families have heard 30 million more words than children from lower-income families. This disparity in hearing words from parents and caregivers translates directly into a disparity in learning words.  In fact, on average, higher income four-year-olds know an average of 1100 words compared to just 500 words for lower-income children.

This research has been replicated and strengthened in recent years by Professor Anne Fernald at Stanford University who has shown that not only is there a word gap, but that there is already a gap in language comprehension of six months by the time a child is two years old.  And we know from another Stanford Professor – Sean Reardon – that this early gap in learning is the best predictor for the persistent educational achievement gap in the K-12 system.

And that puts our children born with the fewest advantages even further behind.

So we decided to focus our Too Small to Fail efforts on closing the word gap.  But to close the gap, you have to understand the barriers.  There are two large barriers:

First, many low-income parents and caregivers are simply not aware of the importance of talking directly to their babies and toddlers to build their brains and prepare them for later learning and good health outcomes.

Time and again, we have heard parents express surprise when told that by talking, reading, and singing to their babies from birth, they can actually build up their child’s vocabulary and help develop their brain.

We have an enormous opportunity to empower parents and help them understand how their simple actions can have a large impact.

Our goal is to help parents integrate talking, reading, and singing into their everyday routine with their children – just as they would brush their child’s teeth before bed.

The campaign is focused on examples of simple actions – talking during bath time, telling a story while changing a diaper, singing in the car, playing peek-a-boo – that can help prepare children for academic success.

This is why a strong partnership between families and child care providers is so critical. Parents look for information about their children’s well-being from family, friends, and trusted sources such as pediatricians and child care providers.  We need your help to close this gap.

I just got back from Tulsa, OK, where we launched our first local campaign called “Talking is Teaching.” (You can watch a video of the event here.)

 

We are partnering with local community organizations —engaging pediatricians, business leaders, librarians and others—to empower parents and caregivers to boost young children’s brain development and build their vocabularies by increasing the number of words they hear spoken to them every day.

According to recent field research conducted among low-income parents, grandparents and other caregivers in Tulsa, approximately 90 percent recognize that they personally have an impact on their child’s brain development.  Yet, many of those surveyed admit that they could be doing more on a daily basis to help their children increase their vocabulary:

  • Only 55 percent of parents and 47 percent of grandparents report reading to their children every day.
  • Fewer than half report telling their children a story, singing a song or playing a non-electronic game every day.

Our “Talking is Teaching” campaign will show how simple actions—like describing objects seen on a bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories for just five minutes—can significantly improve a baby’s ability to learn new words and concepts.

Creative messages will appear as ads on public buses, billboards, grocery carts and in places where Tulsa families congregate.

Community partners will talk directly to parents and caregivers using family toolkits developed with Sesame Workshop; and to pediatricians using clinical toolkits on early literacy developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The campaign will also test new technology developed by the Bezos Family Foundation that will help parents remember to build these activities into their daily lives.

We hope that our work in Tulsa will serve as a model for other communities across the country to motivate increased talking, reading and singing to babies and toddlers. And Too Small to Fail will launch additional campaigns in several more cities this year.

In addition, we are working to magnify attention to the word gap through media partnerships with Univision and show integration with Hollywood.

But we know that the second reason for the word gap, is that there is simply a lack of access to high-quality child care and preschool.  With parents working, we simply cannot afford not to invest in high-quality child care that is available from infancy onward.

Just the other day I was driving home after picking up my children and my son, who just turned four, started kicking the back of my seat and laughing and then he yelled “AVALANCHE.” And I asked him how he knew the word avalanche.  He told me that he had heard it in a book his teacher read him at school.

There has to be a continuum and a partnership between parental action and high quality child care and this takes real public investments.

In 1971, the year I was born, President Richard Nixon famously declared that universal child care would have “family-weakening implications” as he wielded his veto pen to block a universal child care bill passed by Congress.

We may look back on this moment with disbelief, but at the time – it really was a close call for America with real divisions about whether women should work outside the home. Those conversations may still occur among the elite, but nearly everyone else is working.

Today, over 70 percent of families are headed by two working parents or a single working parent – compared to under 40 percent in the early 1970s.

Unfortunately, President Nixon’s veto of universal child care became the last best chance for decades for the federal government to support working moms and dads trying to raise their children and earn a living at the same time.

We are here because today is FINALLY our moment to make greater access to child care and early childhood education a reality.

FUTURE VISION

While we have made progress, it is clear that we need more of our leaders to fully embrace early learning as central to the future of our children and our economy.

The Senate’s recent passage of the Child Care Development Block Grant bill is a great step in the right direction – and with such a strong, bipartisan vote! The President is using his bully pulpit to push for change.  But it is up to us to make it happen.   And it will truly take all of us.

If we set our sights on a vision that includes these three principles, I believe we will be able to fully support families to help children thrive in the early years and beyond:

1. We need a common understanding of the importance of early child development

  • All Americans should have a deep appreciation of the importance of brain development of very young children – not just among advocates and researchers, but among grocery store managers, elementary school administrators, public transit operators, and governors.
  • I believe that understanding will lead to more family interaction that supports children. It will lead to workplace changes that support families. And it will lead to federal policies that better support our child care providers.

2.  We need more training for those who care for infants and toddlers

  • There must be a much greater support system to provide training and guidance to all who provide care and teach our youngest children, including parents.
  • Throughout training, care givers should hear about the importance of talking, singing, hugging, and playing, as a critical component of brain development and life-long learning.

3.  We need a robust, high-quality system of infant and toddler care

  • The United States must distinguish itself as a country that values quality learning for young children, as evidenced by high quality child care centers.
  • Parents, providers, and policymakers should develop a common, evidence-based definition of quality. Families should be able to enroll their young children in programs with confidence. And state- and federally-funded reimbursement rates should reward high quality programs.
  • Low-income families should have the same range of choice as upper and middle-class families, so that their children can also receive the type of support that is best for them.

To get there, we must start with a clear vision and set of convictions: our country can and should take a stand on early learning and development. Through thoughtful and collaborative work, we can continue a nationwide conversation about these issues.

That is why it is so critical that you have all travelled here to DC to share your message with our legislators. But you must carry the message back home with you as well.

Conversations about early development belong in every doctor’s office, place of worship, grocery store, and barbershop. Only when communities are reminded and convinced of the long-term gains made when we invest in young children will our politicians respond.

So I hope you will join us in partnership at http://www.toosmall.org to work together on closing the word gap and creating an early learning nation.

 

Ann O’Leary is vice president and director of the children and families program for Next Generation,  which includes spearheading “Too Small to Fail”—Next Generation’s joint initiative with the Clinton Foundation to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five.  

Recap all of the 2014 Symposium.