Now an annual gathering in its fifth year, the topic of discussion was to brainstorm ways to reach out to families of lower-income children — especially those who cannot afford preschools — to encourage and foment ways they can help their children can expand their vocabularies before entering kindergarten.
“We found that most of our low-income children weren't going to preschool, while children who had quality early childhood education were developing the tools to succeed in kindergarten,” said Carole Mulford, manager of Child Development Programs with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. “The statistics show that if children start school behind, they don't catch up.”
The keynote speaker at the forum was Sarah Crow, associate director of the nonprofit Next Generation's Children and Families Program.
Crow highlighted Next Generation's “Too Small to Fail,” an initiative to reach out to parents, communities, businesses, and even Hollywood, to help children's health and development in their first 5 years by combating what she described as “The Word Gap.”
“Ninety percent of the brain is developed by the age of 5,” Crow said. “By age 3, a poor child will hear 30 million fewer words than a high-income child.”
Lack of low-income parents' free time to spend with children, she said, seemed to be the overwhelming factor in that statistic. She encouraged parents to find ways to take a few extra minutes a day to read, sing, or simply just talk with their children — even before they can speak.
Crow said that she was touring throughout California gathering information, ideas, and advice from those closest to the children's education to help the organization develop its campaigns.
“We're trying to lift up some stories for others to learn from California,” she said. “A lot of what we'll be doing is still to be determined, and the best ideas come from those that are working in the field.”
Mulford said that she was heartened by the support that the educators were willing to provide, saying that when children transition into school, it can either be “a tremendous opportunity, or a lost opportunity.”
“(Family, early education, and kindergarten) — it takes all three,” Mulford said. “We want the children to be in the best environment that they can be.”
The forum, which has met annually since 2010, traces its roots back to 2006, when kindergarten teachers and preschool teachers — hoping for the passage of Proposition 82, that would have provided free public preschool to all four-year-olds in California — met to begin setting a curriculum.
Though voters roundly rejected Proposition 82, said Mulford, it was helpful because it got teachers from public schools and preschools talking to one another.
For more information about Too Small to Fail, visit www.toosmall.org