Start at age 4, preferably sooner

Teacher explains how to do the Hokey Pokey
Head Start Teacher explains how to do the Hokey Pokey in Nashville, TN

She answers to the name Mayzi, my sister-in-law Patti’s granddaughter. One day a week she confers multiple blessings on my wife Toni and me. Lately, we have her Wednesdays.

Mayzi recently turned five. In the fall she’ll be attending a magnet school.

She’s taught us a lot of things, all these months she’s dropped by for a day or so when Patti is working.

That’s saying a lot about this child. Consider that between Toni and me we hold six college degrees. You’d think we knew everything important.

Well, OK, Mayzi is just offering a refresher course. I think of it as┬áthe Importance of Early Childhood Education 101. This child spends much of her days either in pre-school or with a retired elementary school teacher – Patti – or one day with Toni, now retired as a principal but once honored as one of the top educators in Indiana.

Need I say this kind of early education would be exceptional? Here’s the rest of the story.

Most young children in the United States are not enrolled in any pre-school. Not even Head Start. Just a handful of states help fund any program. North Carolina, Rhode Island, Alaska and Mississippi pay for pre-school. Nine States provide no funding whatsoever.

My own state, Indiana, is one of those states that only offers a few, modest grants for pre-school.

When I was still writing editorials for the morning newspaper, I spent a couple of days visiting the High Scope Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This foundation, which opened in 1970, conducts research and trains teachers in early childhood education.

They were training early childhood teachers during my visit.

High Scope’s research findings should be no surprise to anyone who has children or who has worked with young children. In its long-term study of children who had been enrolled in the nearby Perry Preschool, High Scope found that the kids exhibited even more than academic gains.

As they grew older, these former High Scope students also had developed greater self-control. The were more likely to complete high school. They were more likely to attend college. As adults, they had better health.

Policy-makers often object that early childhood education is expensive. But the research on the outcomes always has shown that the up-front investment more than pays off in the long run.

Graduates of good pre-school hold better-paying jobs so they pay more taxes. They’re more likely to have a job. So they don’t need to ask the public to pay for their health care, housing and food. Pre-school graduates
also stay out of trouble with the law and, thus, out of jail.

High Scope even has found that graduates of quality pre-school have better health.

It’s about a two-dollar return for every dollar spent on pre-school.

I should mention again that some children in poverty do attend Head Start. I wouldn’t take away anything from that, long-running program. I also should note that many children in well-off families attend private pre-school. Many children grow up in homes where there are lots of books and children are constantly read to. They’re constantly challenged to figure things out. That was my home.

That’s our great-niece Mayzi’s life with my sister-in-law.

But so many children, especially in poor families, don’t have these opportunities. They should. It would make a difference for everyone. These children deserve better.

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