News story after editorial after article after ivory-tower speech nearly all continue to equate early childhood education with preschool. Preschool of course IS early, but take a small step back from the current talk about early education and it becomes immediately clear that it’s not nearly early enough. The world has produced sufficient research and an adequate track record to fully embrace the reality that if we wish to invest in early learning, it is parents and families in the home that most need our attention and support.
I think early literacy and preschool get conflated because most thought leaders in early literacy are in or have come from the field of education. While the education system has teachers, classes, standards and grades, none of that is necessary for truly early literacy acquisition.
That education bias is a bubble reality that needs to be popped for the sake of offering early literacy help where help is needed. Thought leaders in literacy and in the broader community have to step up and lead the conversations around early literacy away from early education and toward early learning—by that I mean birth to preschool learning… learning in the home.
They need to shout it from the rooftops that early literacy doesn’t begin with first-day cubby assignments, but rather when our “tinys” are still comfy in their “onesies.” It starts with talking to infants and chatting with toddlers. It continues through cuddly lap reading and playfully leading little ones into an understanding that their little books actually MEAN something, to them—personally. It continues through bedtime stories with affectionate discussion, and the brief hug-and-kiss celebrations over adding a new book to the baby’s growing bookshelf.
There are a few voices clamoring for a broader and more enlightened perspective about early literacy policy. Policy makers and educators as a class, however, have yet to consistently and appropriately embrace the truth that a family is the most fertile ground for boosting the early foundations of literacy, not a school.
At the end of the day, some young parents, struggling to make ends meet, may not have much time or money for recreation and personal expression. But what they do have that none of the rest of us can have is their kids. Reminiscing about their children’s early years, parents of older children can productively jump in here, to help ensure that all young parents “get” what many of them don’t yet understand—that now, Right Now, they play an irreplaceable role in insuring the school and life success of their babies.
Worried about where all of the new money will end up, educational institutions, curriculum developers and publishers pretty much have all taken up positions designed to draw finances in their directions. That’s a political strategy, not an educational one. For the sake of the children, we need to step out of that institutional-perspective box and step into the warm sun and fresh air of the day-to-day learning lives of our littlest (and most engaged) learners. Our resources could be invested better in efforts toward guiding and supporting new moms and dads into discovering the joy and fulfillment of delightfully, verbally interacting about life and the world with their rapidly growing, though not yet walking, bundles of joy. In the long run, that is more rewarding than anything else they might currently imagine and many need help to envision their critical role in that earliest learning.
That small change in self-perception will pay lofty dividends for them, their children and for our society at large.