Community Connections: It’s easier to build a child than to fix an adult | SteamboatToday.com

Community Connections: It’s easier to build a child than to fix an adult

Stephanie Martin/For Steamboat Today

— Research shows that up to 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of life. As stated by the Colorado Department of Education, "In the early years of each child’s life, every experience, every day creates the foundation for success in school and beyond."

However, the amount of public dollars supporting a child's life do not typically reach a child until they enter the public school system and then increases over the years depending on how well the child is doing in school. These public dollars continue to increase if the child becomes a teenager who is involved with the juvenile detention system or becomes pregnant or an adult who is incarcerated.

What is wrong with this picture? With 90 percent of brain development occurring before the age of 5, our current system is missing out on a critical opportunity to invest in children during their early years — reducing the need for investment in the later years, as well as improving outcomes for children as they grow.

What can we do to reverse the current system of investing in the lives of children?

First Impressions, which serves as Routt County's Early Childhood Council, is a group of diverse Routt County community representatives, including, elected officials, parents, business leaders, health and human service agencies, school districts and higher education representatives. Together, we work to ensure that all children have the resources they need during their first five years of life to promote healthy development and school readiness.

School readiness, as defined by the State Board of Education in 2008, includes "both the preparedness of a child to engage in and benefit from learning experiences, and the ability of a school to meet the needs of all students enrolled in publicly funded preschool or kindergarten."

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To support school readiness in Routt County, First Impressions offers resources to parents, teachers and others to help them support children's physical and mental health, and to provide safe, engaging and nurturing early learning environments. Support includes child care and education tuition assistance, professional development support for teachers and directors, materials for classrooms and playgrounds and online child development assessment tools.

The Children's Health Advocacy Team brings together health and mental health professionals to align supports to ensure all children have the resources needed to promote optimal development. Parent education opportunities are provided through local programs such as Newborn Network, Parents as Teachers, Nurse Family Partnership and the Fatherhood Program of Routt County. Additional resources include the School Readiness Calendar, Thoughtful Parenting series that appears every Monday in the Steamboat Today and parenting sessions led by local experts where dinner and child care are provided free of charge.

How can you support a "Ready Child, Ready School, Ready Community?”

• Talk to your employer about early childhood education and how important it is to you. Ask your employer to make it a priority with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

• Call or write your Routt County commissioners to express your support of their strategic plan initiative in supporting early childhood education.

• Offer to volunteer at one of our local early childhood education programs.

• Donate to United Way or directly to an early learning program. United Way and many early learning programs are a 501c3 organization so your donation is not only tax deductible but is also eligible for the Colorado Child Care Contribution Tax Credit.

• Take it home to your neighborhood. Learn the names of the children in your neighborhood and say “hi” with a smile. Slow down when driving in your neighborhood.

• Spend seven minutes watching “The Social Womb” video on You Tube to learn more about how the whole community benefits from supporting a child's development in the first three years of development.

Children are better prepared to enter kindergarten when schools, families and the community work together from birth to age 5 to ensure that children are ready for higher levels of learning — as well as able to listen to their teacher, follow directions and play nicely with their peers.

Stephanie Martin is program administrator for First Impressions of Routt County.