Now for Later: Investing in Early Learning

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Even at the earliest ages, a child begins to gain valuable skills that will develop and grow throughout their lifetime.

How well a child is exposed to quality learning experiences builds an important foundation for learning.

Whether those experiences are gained at home or in a school-based program, early childhood professionals know the importance of early developmental stages.

They know that quality preparation now will reap rewards later.

It’s a very influential time from birth, those first five years.

So much is happening in the brain, so much is happening in their understanding and in their development at a very fast pace, and the critical time periods are going fast and we have to reach them then.

Here are the facts: 50 percent of intelligence is formed by age four; A child’s most productive and influential years of learning occur before the age of five; And a person’s brain reaches 95 percent of its maximum size by age 6.

A child’s early experiences can significantly enhance or inhibit development and learning.

It is important for schools and early learning centers to work cooperatively with the home during the crucial first years.

The benefits of enrolling children in an early learning program is that it sets them up for a lifetime of success by making sure that they have a strong foundation in many different areas and see themselves as capable learners.

So not only to be successful in school, but beyond, to be successful in life.

There are opportunities for your child to be able to grow and develop in ways that are really quite magnificent in very short time frame and you don’t get to miss it.

You actually get to be a part and a partner with it.

Early education is vital to preparing our children for school.

You know, I can’t imagine if our daughter wasn’t enrolled in preschool how her first year of kindergarten would go.

Just the exposure to books, reading, playing with other children, the social skills, the emotional development that she’s going through.

My wife and I decided to enroll our son in the early educational childhood program because we wanted to make sure that he was prepared for school when he actually did start.

However, experts stress the need for parenting education for a positive home experience, as well as quality programs.

All child care and early learning programs in the state need to be of significant high-quality.

As you know, the evidence is now pretty solid that any provisions for young children, whether within the home or outside of it, any provisions that are less than top quality represent missed opportunities to make a substantial contribution to the rest of the child's life.

With access to high-quality, voluntary early learning programs, children throughout the state of Missouri can develop their social and learning skills, and avoid feeling like they have to catch up with the rest of their peers.

Without those types of experiences early on, research shows that reading scores are lower, math scores are lower, and typically by the third grade they say everything catches up, that’s not necessarily true.

People start falling through the cracks then.

And they stay there.

The firm foundation that students have is the foundation that will last them for the rest of their lives.

Without having that foundation, those students are prone to fail without the kind of interventions that either take place at home or the school.

We can plant seeds of greatness in our children and then they will achieve and achieve and achieve.

And that's how we can improve this academic gap that we have by instilling in our young children to be the best.

They are the best and they are worth it.

As concerns grow about our capacity to prepare the nation’s workforce, more must be done to increase awareness, funding and coordination of parenting education and early learning programs to promote the foundations of learning.

This is not an endeavor to support young children because it's really a nice thing to do.

It's an endeavor to support young children because it is in the interest of our country, of our economy, of the future workforce of this country.

It is critical to our success.

According to Nobel Laureate and Economist Dr.

James Heckman, I really believe early childhood programs that are of high-quality really help us create a workforce for tomorrow.

So I think it's important that we invest in it today.

I do have concerns, certainly, about the work force as far as where I may be able to find employees and where other businesses will be able to find employees.

But I also have the concern of just kind of what’s right for children, what’s right for families and that everybody should have as equal opportunity as possible in success for the future.

Military leaders also are concerned.

Mission: Readiness, a group of more than 275 retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders, believes that investing more in high-quality early learning programs is essential to our national security.

According to data from the Department of Defense, 75 percent of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds are not qualified or are unfit for military service due to not graduating from high school, being physically unfit or having a criminal record.

When we see that quality early childhood education plays a significant role in whether somebody's going to have contact with the criminal justice system, then it makes sense to make that investment for the long run.

If we don’t invest, it may mean that we’re going to be building more prisons in the future.

It’s just as simple as that.

Early childhood education is in fact one of the key ways that we can make sure that children succeed in school.

It reduces dropout rates, it reduces remediation rates, it reduces the need for special education.

The benefits are well-documented and well-researched.

We believe that it is one of the key strategies for making sure that Missouri reaches those top 10 performing states and becomes competitive, not only nationally but internationally.

By the year 2020, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education wants every family in Missouri to have access to quality early childhood programs.

This is one of the Department’s three goals established for the Top 10 by 20 initiative.

To be successful, partnerships are key.

We've been fortunate to have a number of great partners in advancing our early childhood work.

The Department of Social Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and Senior Services and certainly the Early Childhood Coordinating Board have all been instrumental in helping us with this.

We want all Missouri children to enter kindergarten ready for success in school.

Early childhood education is key to not only school preparedness, but for success in life.

The preparation starts now.

You can help.

High-quality, parenting education and voluntary early childhood education are top priorities for our state and for our children.

But it’s bigger than just one agency or one program.

We must come together to create a coordinated system to invest in our children now for later.

Parents, professionals, and community leaders must work together now to create the best start possible for Missouri’s youngest learners and for Missouri’s future.

For more information, visit nowforlater.