by Ted Maple, President and CEO of Early Learning Indiana
Over 100 years ago when Day Nursery (now Early Learning Indiana) began to serve the Indianapolis community, we were created to make lives better for children and families because they needed reliable child care. Today that need is greater than ever. Seven out of ten Indiana children need child care because their parents work. Most of our early learning centers are located in or near workplaces – the IU Health campus, the Federal Building, the State Government Center and Park 100. Employed parents need a safe place for children to stay when they work. Indiana is a “state that works” thanks in large part to the important role played by child care providers across our state.
Child care isn’t just child care anymore. Early Learning Indiana and other agencies like us determined long ago that we must embrace our role as child care providers, but also serve the educational needs of very young children. Eighty percent of a child’s brain develops in the first few years of life. Children don’t attend formal school in Indiana until age five or six. Seventy percent of children are not at home during the day. If early learning programs follow rigorous standards and do the right kinds of things with children in the classroom, they can have a long-term impact on a child’s social and academic success. Our responsibility is clear and has been for some time. When child care is at its best it is much more. It is school.
When I walk into one of our Day Early Learning centers, I can see the difference. So can parents. We have been fortunate to participate in the state’s Early Education Matching Grants and the new On My Way Pre-K pilot program. New families are discovering the difference between child care and preschool. Several families have taken their children from lesser programs, enrolled their children in our centers and found out what preschool teachers and advocates often say: “early years are learning years.” What is the difference? Teachers know what to do and how to teach because they are well-trained in early childhood education. Classrooms are equipped with learning materials that are designed specifically for teaching young children. Lesson plans are developed from an evidence-based curriculum and state academic standards. Children are given individual attention thanks to strict adherence to class size and adult-child ratios.
Parents often tell us how their children surprise them with things they know and can do. They are learning to be good citizens and good students. They are getting a good start. We need more of these kinds of opportunities for our children. It is our hope that our city and state make smart investments in its future by expanding preschool. When we do, more families will discover the wonderful things their children know and can do. More children will start school ready to learn. More citizens of Indianapolis and Indiana will lead us into a successful future.
Join Early Learning Indiana in support of preschool in our community. Call your City Councillors and State Legislators and tell them to expand opportunities for our youngest citizens and ask them to invest in what works so we can be a state that works, succeeds and has a bright future.