IN Los Angeles County, there are more than 800,000 children 5 years old and younger, an age range that is crucial to their development and future success.
That’s why the County is pushing for early childhood education.
“Children are like little sponges,” said Dr. Margaret Lynn Yonekura, executive director of LA Babies Best Network. “No matter what you’re doing, whether you’re doing the dishes or doing the laundry, chores that you don’t look forward to, you can turn that into a brain building opportunity. You can sort the clothes by color, you can count the different socks, you can talk about who the shirt belongs to and the siblings. But all these things make a huge difference in that child’s brain.”
In the first five years of a child’s life, parents, who are their first and most important teachers, are encouraged to talk, read and sing to them. These activities help the child learn more, Yonekura said. Also important for children are their primary relationships, which have the greatest impact on them. Children who experience extreme neglect are shown to have less grey matter – a major component of the central nervous system – in the brain.
“You, as a parent, are a brain builder,” she told parents during a New America Media briefing on Monday, April 25. “Without you, your child’s brain will not be as strong as it can be.”
Early childhood education and care is a particularly important issue for the immigrant community, as 47 percent of these children are those of immigrants, the vast majority of whom are being raised in informal care settings.
Among the obstacles for families seeking early care and education include that childcare services are not always accessible or affordable. They can sometimes cost $6,000 to $8,000 per year, said Jackie Majors, CEO of Crystal Stairs, a non-profit child development agency that administers a number of childcare related programs. She added that Crystal Stairs is focused on improving those areas.
Panelists during Monday’s briefing advised parents to use 2-1-1, a free, confidential, statewide resource that can connect them to childcare providers and programs including summer camps, nursery schools, licensed childcare centers and play groups, among others.
The Los Angeles Unified School District Early Childhood Education Division also offers a free, quality early learning option for low-income children who turn 5 after Dec. 2, called the Expanded Transitional Kindergarten program. It is a six-hour, 180-school day program where one teacher and a teacher assistant will teach 24 children per classroom.
Another area children from 0 to 5 years old are able to quickly pick up on is languages, said Ernesto Saldana, senior advisor on educational policy and programs at The Advancement Project, a next generation, multiracial civil rights organization. Research has debunked the myth that kids can only learn one language, Saldana said, noting they can learn three to four.
“Children from birth to age 7 have this amazing ability to capture nuances in sound that we, from 15 [years old], on cannot capture. So to teach your child another language is critical because they have the brain capacity to. They’re called language geniuses at that point,” he said.
With all the positive outcomes of early childhood education, Barbara DuBransky, director of the First 5 LA Program Development, also pointed out that conflict and violence in the home can have an impact on children, even if such problems do not directly involve them.
Additionally, the importance of early education and care is not only about children being more advanced than standard reading levels, Majors said.
“It has to do with having a workforce in 20 years that is going to be able to sustain our community, sustain our government and work in positions that in 20 years we’re going to need to be able to move our communities forward,” she said. (Agnes Constante/AJPress)