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Tiger Talk: Preparing our youngest for a lifetime of learning

Another school year has begun and our youngest learners are busy doing their work: playing, exploring and growing.

It is exciting to see all the learning that is taking place in the new Early Childhood classrooms. Research in the past decade has shown that up to 85 percent of brain growth occurs before age 5. During this critical window of opportunity, connections are formed in the brain that allow for a child to develop social and cognitive skills that are key to success in all facets of life, including school.

It is not to say children do not or cannot learn after age 5; of course they do! Liken the brain to a vast open space where thoughts travel. Early childhood is the time when smooth, solid and intricate roads are built for thoughts to travel. If children are not provided an enriching environment, these roads are incomplete and disconnected, making passage of these thoughts more difficult.

When children have opportunities to play, explore, socialize, experience new things and hear language, we build a solid system of roads where information travels more easily and through new and creative pathways. Children come to kindergarten with a readiness to absorb and learn new information.

Because of this new understanding, there have been efforts across the United States and in Minnesota to expand and improve access to quality early childhood experiences like Head Start, Early Head Start, Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE), School Readiness and childcare. There is a lot of great work being done in the Pine River-Backus community to ensure quality and enriching opportunities are provided in an efficient manner for our youngest community members.

Most recently there has been collaboration between School Readiness (PR-B preschool) and Head Start to implement a common curriculum to improve consistency and continuity of instruction. BiCAP Head Start and PR-B school administrators have worked to bring a Head Start classroom to the Early Childhood facility at PR-B to assist in providing needed services to 3- and 4-year-olds. The first round of Early Childhood screening was completed in September; watch for more information for upcoming screening dates yet this year.

ECFE offers a variety of classes for parents and children birth to age 5. Over the past summer, the Family Center again offered its Wonderful Wednesday program and continues to offer home visiting for expectant parents, as well as parenting classes.

To further enhance and coordinate efforts in early childhood education, the Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) was formed in January 2010 as a local chapter of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. ECC is a volunteer, community-driven organization that brings together individuals from Head Start, ECFE, kindergarten, family service agencies, the library, daycare providers, parents and community members who feel passionate about early childhood education.

ECC works to coordinate efforts to ensure that all families with children birth to age 5 have support and are nurtured for early success.

In September, ECC hosted a pie social to encourage networking and collaboration among individuals in the PR-B area that work with our youngest learners. A family tailgating event Oct. 4 was the kickoff for a year of fun and enriching activities planned by the ECC. Families with children birth to age 5 were invited to enjoy food, games and free admission to the football game.

Such experiences encourage family time, provide new and fun learning experiences and connect children to their community. See the schedule above for our upcoming events.

There are many ways you can get involved and support early childhood education in our PR-B community. For more information, contact the ECC at 947-4813 ext. 222. If you have questions about Early Childhood opportunities for your child in our community, contact information is listed below.

ECFE/School Readiness/Screening: 587-8323

Early Childhood Special Education: 587-8354 or 218-454-5534

Early Head Start/Head Start: 947-4813 ext. 222

PR-B Family Center: 587-4292