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The Commons

Bright and early education

Building Bright Futures discusses starting caregiver involvement sooner, rather than later

Originally published in The Commons issue #404 (Wednesday, April 19, 2017).

BRATTLEBORO—Building Bright Futures, a Williston-based nonprofit that advocates for improved Early Childhood education, held a community discussion April 12 at the Brattleboro Retreat, addressing issues such as “getting pre-school right,” the vulnerability of the learning curve of the developmental years spanning birth to grade three, how crucial early involvement is, and how such involvement can reinforce that curve.

“Children are born ready to learn,” Chad Simmons, the organization’s Southeast Vermont Regional Coordinator, said at the event.

Simmons played a video with commentary by Dr. Jack Shonkoff of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Shonkoff explained that the healthy development of young children in the early years “literally does provide a foundation for just about all of the challenging social problems that our society and other societies face. Exciting new developments in neuroscience and molecular biology [are showing] how much early experience, from birth, literally gets into our bodies and shapes our learning capacities, our behaviors, and our physical and mental health.”

Neuroplasticity, or the flexibility of the neural circuitry, was discussed in the video as particularly prominent during these early years, making them the optimal time for academic, social, and emotional information to be established as a foundation for health and further learning.

Janice Stockman, Early Childhood Coordinator for the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, noted a part of the video that stood out to her, which asserted that early intervention, and “getting it right the first time,” protects the lives of children who have adverse childhood experiences.

“We need to get it right,” she added. “[Good] early education is built on a strong foundation of positive parent/teacher/child interactions, in learning environments that foster curiosity, persistence, and taking initiative, combined with purposeful teaching of age-appropriate skills. Those are the things that help kids do better in school and in life, and work to buffer adverse early childhood experiences.”

Laura Casey and Melissa Mroz-Gaskill held a two-person dialogue to discuss a typical day in an early-childhood classroom. Casey is a Kindergarten teacher at Academy School in Brattleboro, and Mroz-Gaskill is the owner of the Little Red House Early Learning Program and Coordinator for the Brattleboro Area Early Childhood Educator’s Network.

Each stressed the importance of providing children with essential foundational knowledge that they can carry throughout the rest of their learning experiences.

Casey and Mroz-Gaskill gave examples of teaching children the basics of words like breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a hands-on way.

They say they can show children that some vegetables (like sweet potatoes) grow out of the ground and how to wash sweet potatoes (which engages motor skills). Talking about what worms do during the winter time can lead to lessons on socially-appropriate behavior and how to learn, on their own, to cope with disappointment.

Mroz-Gaskill joked that her job requires her to be a “superficial expert” for the children, knowing a little about a lot of things.

The theme of getting early childhood experiences right was echoed throughout the event, as was the idea that getting it right requires thoughtful, compassionate, attentive, guided, structured, rule-enforced, and deliberately-playful engagement.

It also entails allowing children to make mistakes and to have the freedom to behave in natural, age-appropriate ways. These approaches lead to healthy cognitive, emotional, and social development, and happier kids.

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