To the Editor:
Now that Georgia’s state-funded pre-K program (which, according to a recent report, significantly affects language, literacy, and math skills in pre-K students) has celebrated its 20th anniversary, I am often asked about our “next frontier” in early-childhood education.
Many early-childhood experts look at pre-K and ask, “Why don’t we start earlier?” Consequently, Georgia’s next frontier is enhanced infant and toddler care, an area we are pioneering through the Georgia Program for Infant Toddler Care, or GAPITC.
Now is our opportunity to focus on preparing children from birth to age 3 for pre-K. Studies indicate that children from lower-income households or non-English-speaking families hear 30 million fewer words by age 3 than children from average-income households. Because verbal language helps lay the foundation for future literacy, these children enter pre-K at a stark disadvantage.
More language is key, even for infants and toddlers. But to fully take advantage of this opportunity, our teachers need more training. In Georgia, we require teachers of infants and toddlers to have an early-childhood credential, giving them a better understanding of child development and how to teach children at young ages. And we are using existing state and additional federal funding to help early-years teachers enhance their professional credentials so they can do an even better job of caring for children.
By working with teachers, providers, families, and stakeholders, Georgia can close the achievement gap for our youngest learners and help meet Gov. Nathan Deal’s goal for every child to read on grade level by 3rd grade.
Given that the majority of a child’s brain is formed within the first three years, that time is simply too valuable; if we lose it, we can never get it back.
Bobby D. Cagle
Bright From the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
Bright From the Start is responsible for early care and education services for Georgia’s children and their families.
A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 2014 edition of Education Week as Infants, Toddlers Are Georgia’s ‘Next Frontier’ for Learning