The importance of building foundational skills in children before they turn three was the focus of The Basics Community Kickoff breakfast Wednesday with Richmond County educators at First Baptist Church of Augusta’s fellowship hall.
Two of the event speakers were Richmond County’s Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Bradshaw and the Executive Director of the CSRA Regional Educational Services Agency Debbie Alexander.
Alexander emphasized the importance of the county’s new early learning strategy simply called “the basics” which focuses on preparing and developing children’s literacy and communication skills from birth to age five.
Alexander said small and simple activities, such as singing, counting and different movements, can greatly impact a child’s learning and reading ability. She said parents should try and always take time out of their day to read to their children; whether it be during bath time or right before bedtime, reading still positively affects them and encourages learning.
“Reading with your child is magical, and it’s statistically shown to help manage parents’ stress,” said Alexander. “The basics’ principle is important because it gives that strong foundation of easy principles that lead to fun, simple learning with things that all parents can do every day, which will maximize love and eliminate stress.”
During the presentation, Bradshaw and Alexander said about 80% of the brain develops before the age of three. Which means, said Alexander, the years before third grade are the most crucial because they are spent on learning how to read rather than utilizing reading skills for learning.
“So often we focus on starting kids at preschool and kindergarten, but from birth to three, that gap that I shared about, is when the child’s brain is developing very rapidly, so this emphasis will help in better preparing kids for school,” said Bradshaw.
Bradshaw added if children are not proficient readers by third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who are proficient with reading and vocabulary. This statistic increases dramatically if poverty is added into the mix as well, according to Alexander.
Alexander believes teaching foundation skills such as counting, comparing, numbers and having small discussions regarding math and reading are important steps which lead to early success down the road.
“People like to say they are bad at math, but science shows us that the human brain is actually hardwired for it. Reading, however, is not. We have to reprogram our brains to understand reading,” Alexander said.
Bradshaw and Alexander said it was important to spread awareness regarding parents’ power over their children’s learning ability and future. “I really wanted to get the entire community involved in early learning,” said Bradshaw. “There are some achievement gaps that we need to close rather quickly, and it is urgent, but we believe that our mission is to help K-12. To do that we need to start focusing on their learning prior to them entering a school to really close that learning gap.”
Bradshaw hopes teachers and staff gained additional resources and tools from the meeting to help spread the word regarding early learning education. Alexander said she hopes the word is spread so parents understand how important it is for them to take time being intentional with their kids during the toddler years.
“As a parent you don’t have a playbook on how to raise a child, but having additional information just gives you ideas on what you can do to perhaps assist your child in ways that you may not realize it,” said Bradshaw.
Dr. Shelly Allen, a retired educator and a current director of Georgia Teacher Academy of Preparation and Pedagogy said, “It is a critical time for social interaction. Every time you interact with your child, like reading a book or talking about math around them, is always important.”
Allen, who attended the meeting with her daughter, said many families think about technology as a really important, if not necessary, tool.
However, Alexander said children truly learn the most through social interaction, which many suffered a lack of due to the pandemic.
“We want to make sure that human interaction keeps happening and we want to make sure people know how important it is, because the brain develops through interaction,” said Allen.
Allen said she believes the kickoff was necessary because the new learning strategy will take everyone to implement and make a difference.
“This is one of those opportunities to bring the community together. This is huge and it’s going to take everybody getting involved,” she said.
Allen believes, since the human face shows so much emotion, it was very hard for not only herself, but also for children who might have not been used to interacting with others.
“It was especially hard for them to suffer from less interaction because they are in that crucial stage of development,” said Allen.
New reading initiatives and programs introduced to Richmond County include Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is a program dedicated to sending high-quality books to children from birth to age five.
“I think as a parent we don’t often intentionally know how powerful our interactions with our children are,” said Alexander. “I now know so much more, so I would hope that, as my children go on to have children, I can help them be stronger parents. It makes all the difference in the world for a child.”
Liz Wright is a correspondent for The Augusta Press.