Early Childhood Education Sets the Foundation for a Successful Future




Photography provided by the YMCA

 

The National Education Association maintains that high quality early childhood education represents one of the best investments our country can make. Across the Cincinnati region, progress is being made, but the StrivePartnership Cradle to Career Network estimates that only 57 percent of children locally are prepared to enter kindergarten. 

Early learning programs at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati are seeing some exciting results. The Y is working with more than 600 children at 12 high quality early learning centers across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The Y’s 2015 assessment shows that among YMCA educated 5-year-old children, 97 percent test developmentally ready for kindergarten. 

“We know that 85 percent of brain development happens by age 5,” says Trish Kitchell, vice president of youth development at YMCA. “We want to help kids grow and develop so when they start in the K – 12 school system they have a foundation for success.” 

Creative play is one way the YMCA early learning programs begin to build that foundation. Kitchell explains that although it may look like normal play on the outside, it’s intentional and strengthens social skills, language and literacy and physical activity. During the early development years, children don’t make a distinction between playing and learning. Dramatic play, arts and crafts, math and science are also pieces of the learning puzzle. 

Each child has the ability to create, learn problem solving and social skills, explore the environment and master concepts through first-hand experiences. Children learn how to manage their feelings, the importance of sharing, listening to others and build vital concepts that will enrich their lives now and in their future. 

The three pillars of the YMCA are also followed in the early learning programs: youth development, healthy living and social responsibilities. “We incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into all programs,” says Kitchell. “We make sure kids are making healthy choices and being active throughout the day.”

The impact these learning programs are making is encouraging. Kitchell points out 80 percent of Y students are demonstrating appropriate social and emotional skills, 90 percent show appropriate cognitive and language skills and 100 percent are making progress socially and cognitively. 

“Kindergarten readiness is the hot topic and 96 percent of our kids are on track for kindergarten readiness,” says Kitchell. “So when we assess kids, we utilize various tools. These positive trends continue long after they leave our program.”

Tools include individualized learning portfolios to track progress and identify a plan for each child. If a child is struggling, teachers are able to be especially attentive and work one-on-one to get them back on track. 

Out of the 12 YMCA locations in the region, two – Blue Ash YMCA and Clippard Family YMCA – offer Autism Inclusion Preschool for children who identify on the spectrum. The program provides the needed therapies to achieve children’s goals with a certified speech and occupational therapist as well as a behavioral therapist. Children in Autism Inclusion Preschool experience the preschool experience with structure, therapies and academics to ensure growth. 

The YMCA early learning programs are just one important piece of a child’s foundation for a successful education – parental engagement is also a critical component. Parents are encouraged to attend parent-teacher conferences, parent events and to be actively engaged in their child’s learning. 

“We send projects and activities home that the family can work on together,” says Kitchell. “We make sure the family is abreast of their child’s development so they’re supported at home.” 

Full and half-day programs are available, and tuition functions the same as YMCA memberships – a scholarship system based on a sliding scale. They also accept vouchers, state-subsidized child care, some centers are Head Start funded, as well as a grant to give access to families who can’t afford preschool but are unable to receive support from the state. 

“We know how critical it is for children to be prepared for kindergarten, so we will find a way to make that happen,” says Kitchell. She explains that for families, it’s about finding a quality place for their child to go after school or during their preschool years, so parents can continue working and earning wages for their family. “It’s not only us supporting the child; we also support the parents so they can work and provide for their family.” 

As with every school, there are challenges to face and overcome. Increased academic pressure with “teaching to test” and reaching the thirdgrade reading guarantee put strain on both teachers and their students. Kitchell notes how children are struggling with social and emotional development when there’s such an emphasis purely on academics.

She recommends parents start their children’s social interaction as early and often as possible. “It doesn’t necessarily have to look like school,” says Kitchell. “Children learning social standards will help them immensely in their elementary school years.”

For more information about early childhood learning programs at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, call 513.362.YMCA or visit their website at www.cincinnatiymca.org.