Dr. Benjamin Heuston
President and CEO, Waterford.org
America has a strong commitment to the ideal that every child has the right to an excellent education. Researchers have singled out early education as essential for achieving that goal. When children arrive at school without key early childhood experiences and skills, they struggle and often fall permanently behind. The solution to this problem is clear: We need every child arriving at school ready to learn.
What is less clear is how to achieve this goal. Early childhood programs for young children are, quite literally, all over the map. Some primarily offer childcare for working parents, some target rich social- and play-based experiences, and others focus on academics. While these brick-and-mortar options are helpful for many, some parents believe the best environment for a young child is the home itself.
Parents are the missing piece
In order for every child to arrive at school ready to learn, we need to recognize the incredible resource that parents represent. Parents are right there in the home. They know their children and their needs better than anyone. They want their children to have every opportunity in life. So why not bring parents into the process? By equipping parents with the tools and support they need to take part in their child’s education, they become more involved in the educational process, which benefits the child.
When we start with parents as the first teachers of their children, we acknowledge some important truths. Children naturally model off their parents. When parents engage with their children through verbal exchanges, actively listen to them, or read a book with them, the payoffs are profound for all involved. In short, while supplementary activities outside the home can be beneficial, it is essential to have parents engage with their children in the home.
The power of parents
Strategies for getting our children ready for school have increasingly been focused on activities outside of the home. We have overlooked the importance of starting that journey in the home. It is the right and the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children are educated, and we need to do a better job of supporting them in that role, rather than trying to supplant them in it. While there are many programs outside the home that can be beneficial, all of these programs are necessarily secondary to the experiences that a child has in the home.
The good news is that parents are ready for this! More than ever before, parents are aware of the importance of education and are looking for ways to help their children be successful. When we take the time to educate and support parents, we empower them to maximize the available opportunities for their children. This will in turn bring us closer to achieving the ideal of all children arriving at school ready to learn.
Dr. Benjamin Heuston, President and CEO, Waterford.org, [email protected]