EARLY LEARNING INITIATIVE


EARLY LEARNING INITIATIVE



EARLY LEARNING MATTERS

Early investment in young children’s development has a significant return for individual children, families, and the community. The biggest returns come from programs and policies that ensure young children are in environments that promote positive social-emotional development and are rich in opportunities for brain stimulation and growth. The plasticity of young children’s brains in the early years of life means they are very responsive to both positive and negative environmental influences. All young children and families need access to a system of high-quality, affordable supports, including healthcare, social support, and early education and childcare. Reaching our goals for all young children and families requires a systems approach that integrates and aligns existing resources and services and identifies and remedies gaps.


EARLY LEARNING MATTERS

Early investment in young children’s development has a significant return for individual children, families, and the community. The biggest returns come from programs and policies that ensure young children are in environments that promote positive social-emotional development and are rich in opportunities for brain stimulation and growth. The plasticity of young children’s brains in the early years of life means they are very responsive to both positive and negative environmental influences. All young children and families need access to a system of high-quality, affordable supports, including healthcare, social support, and early education and childcare. Reaching our goals for all young children and families requires a systems approach that integrates and aligns existing resources and services and identifies and remedies gaps.

THE CHALLENGE

There is clear evidence of the positive impacts of quality early learning experiences on brain development and socio-emotional health, as well as clear evidence of the lifetime harms for children that are exposed to toxic stress in their early years, and do not have access to safe environments that nurture brain development. Early childhood professionals and early elementary school teachers in Elkhart County have expressed concern with the rising rates and severity of social-emotional, behavioral and mental health issues of young children in their classrooms. Self-regulation and executive function skills have been found to be one of the strongest predictors of academic success, and many Elkhart County children are not experiencing opportunities to develop these skills prior to entering school.

The current capacity for quality early learning and care options are also a challenge for our current and future workforce. It is essential for working parents to have access to this high-quality, dependable early learning and care to maintain employment. Something known as the achievement gap — the gap in school outcomes between children from different demographic backgrounds — starts before children enter kindergarten because of inequitable access to high-quality early childhood opportunities. The achievement gap tends to persist over time and becomes more difficult to close. The most cost-effective and efficient solution to closing the gap is to intervene early.

THE SOLUTION

The goal for our work in Early Learning is to support a system of high-quality opportunities for social, emotional, and cognitive development for all children from prenatal through 8 years old. Our goal is to provide every young child in Elkhart County with a strong foundation for learning, leading to success in school and life.

THE CHALLENGE

There is clear evidence of the positive impacts of quality early learning experiences on brain development and socio-emotional health, as well as clear evidence of the lifetime harms for children that are exposed to toxic stress in their early years, and do not have access to safe environments that nurture brain development. Early childhood professionals and early elementary school teachers in Elkhart County have expressed concern with the rising rates and severity of social-emotional, behavioral and mental health issues of young children in their classrooms. Self-regulation and executive function skills have been found to be one of the strongest predictors of academic success, and many Elkhart County children are not experiencing opportunities to develop these skills prior to entering school. The current capacity for quality early learning and care options are also a challenge for our current and future workforce. It is essential for working parents to have access to this high-quality, dependable early learning and care to maintain employment. Something known as the achievement gap — the gap in school outcomes between children from different demographic backgrounds — starts before children enter kindergarten because of inequitable access to high-quality early childhood opportunities. The achievement gap tends to persist over time and becomes more difficult to close. The most cost effective and efficient solution to closing the gap is to intervene early.

THE SOLUTION

The goal for our work in Early Learning is to support a system of high-quality opportunities for social, emotional, and cognitive development for all children from prenatal through 8 years old. Our goal is to provide every young child in Elkhart County with a strong foundation for learning, leading to success in school and life.

INDICATORS OF SUCCESS   

As we work at systems level change, early indicators of success will include the engagement and alignment of stakeholders and the identification of shared measures. HEA has worked with Elkhart County school districts to develop a unique measure for assessing children’s social-emotional and physical development skills at Kindergarten entry. This provides a snapshot of how well our early childhood system is currently preparing our young children for school entry.

INDICATORS OF SUCCESS

As we work at systems level change, early indicators of success will include the engagement and alignment of stakeholders and the identification of shared measures. HEA has worked with Elkhart County school districts to develop a unique measure for assessing children’s social-emotional and physical development skills at Kindergarten entry. This provides a snapshot of how well our early childhood system is currently preparing our young children for school entry.

STRATEGIES   

Improving early childhood outcomes for all children is a complex social issue that can only be tackled through a systems approach. Systems thinking requires examining the relationships between the components of the current system, identifying the conditions that are holding the problem in place and re-designing the system towards the desired outcome. HEA is in the process of learning from key experts in the work of systems change, and there are growing examples of other communities that are working to solve complex social issues through systems change and collective impact. Elkhart County is rich in resources, with one of our strongest resources being our culture of collaboration between organizations and our commitment to collaborating in the pursuit of better outcomes for our community. We believe there is strong potential for a systems change effort to transform the lives of young children and families in our county, and HEA hopes to support our stakeholders in engaging in this work.

STRATEGIES   

Improving early childhood outcomes for all children is a complex social issue that can only be tackled through a systems approach. Systems thinking requires examining the relationships between the components of the current system, identifying the conditions that are holding the problem in place and re-designing the system towards the desired outcome. HEA is in the process of learning from key experts in the work of systems change, and there are growing examples of other communities that are working to solve complex social issues through systems change and collective impact. Elkhart County is rich in resources, with one of our strongest resources being our culture of collaboration between organizations and our commitment to collaborating in the pursuit of better outcomes for our community. We believe there is strong potential for a systems change effort to transform the lives of young children and families in our county, and HEA hopes to support our stakeholders in engaging in this work.