PNC Grow Up Great
One of the earliest indicators of a child’s future success is the number of words he or she hears prior to kindergarten. Language development begins with the interplay of words between the parent and child and helps nurture vocabulary, which is considered the building block of education. The frequency and richness of natural conversation in a child’s first years plays a key role in development.
An at-risk child who lacks these early interactions often enters kindergarten with a vocabulary 18 months behind that of a middle-income child. As the child ages, the gap widens instead of narrowing. With vocabulary proficiency such a vital marker of a child’s capacity to learn, the child risks falling so far behind that his or her prospects for graduating high school or finding a meaningful job are greatly diminished.
The issue of school preparedness has further relevance as we compete in a world economy increasingly fueled by a knowledge-based workforce. A recent Manpower study showed that 49 percent of employers struggle to fill jobs because too many job seekers lack the right skills. The solution is to close the achievement gap early so that more underserved children enter kindergarten with the vocabulary of their more economically secure peers.
Various programs are addressing the issue. One of note is the Thirty Million Words® Initiative of Dr. Dana Suskind at the University of Chicago Medicine. Named for a groundbreaking study that found children raised in poverty heard 30 million fewer words by age 4 than their more affluent peers, Dr. Suskind and others in education have reason to focus on a child’s earliest years. Research shows that 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years of life, as children make rapid progress in cognitive, linguistic, emotional and social skills.
Central to a child’s keeping pace in vocabulary development is the parents’ active role in his or her education, so that learning takes place in the home long before schooling begins. Children are more likely to succeed when families understand the value of speaking with them. Rather than have them memorize a hundred words, parents must talk, read, sing and play with children from birth. Great vocabulary is the end result of these dynamic exchanges with children.
In addition, many underserved children will benefit from accessible, high quality early childhood education. For their teachers, that means having the professional development and related support that equips them to stimulate the young mind. For their families having trouble finding affordable, quality pre-k, it means having access to exemplary programs for their children.
When children experience a holistic environment which supports their learning at home and at school, they are more likely to graduate, obtain meaningful jobs and do well over time. In these many ways, they have an opportunity to experience social and economic mobility that may not otherwise be possible.
Prioritizing investment in early childhood education is one of the best things one can do to improve education, health and economic outcomes. Recognizing the importance of early childhood education, in 2004 PNC launched Grow Up Great – a $350 million multi-year, multi-lingual program for children from birth to age 5. Through the program, we highlight the importance of the first five years of life and, working with our partners, provide innovative opportunities that emphasize the type of interactions which enhance children’s learning and vocabulary development.
As an advocate for early childhood education over the past 10 years, we know the benefits it provides at-risk children and their families. To help advance this issue, however, more public entities and private enterprises will need to step up their advocacy and provide resources so we have future generations that will secure America’s economic future and competitiveness.
So, please take the time to read and converse with the young child in your life. These efforts and universal access to quality early childhood education will help to establish a level playing field for achievement in school, college, career and life. It’s an investment that keeps paying a return to our children, our community and all of our futures.