One of the ongoing concerns of Healthy Peninsula’s Early Childhood Interest Group has been improving the kindergarten readiness of children in the nine towns we serve. In 2014–2015, we fortunate to receive funding from the Virginia Wellington Cabot Foundation to survey parents and educators about early-childhood resources and challenges. Topics of interest specifically identified by parents included positive discipline, healthy eating and physical activity, honesty and respect, sleeping issues, separation anxiety, and reading with children. The parents’ “wish list” included more options for affordable high-quality childcare, preschool and afterschool programs, and early- and late-hour childcare for working parents or parents in educational programs.
Educators who were surveyed pointed to social skills (having the ability to communicate needs and follow directions (self-monitoring and self-regulation) and academic skills (knowledge of letters/numbers, fine motor control)as being important in determining kindergarten readiness. They also mentioned other factors that they feel impact kindergarten readiness, including lack of quality childcare and lack of exposure to language. They recommended three strategies to improve readiness—quality affordable preschool, parent education, and better coordination of services between Child Development Services and schools to address developmental delays in children entering kindergarten..
In November 2016, we received word that we have been awarded a second Cabot Foundation grant, which will allow us to build on this momentum by hiring a qualified part-time Early Childhood Community Coordinator, who will be responsible for continued community engagement. The coordinator will assist in strengthening professional networking, improving the service referral processes between organizations and schools, promoting evidence-based program development, and expanding learning opportunities in our communities for childcare providers, prekindergarten educators, and families with young children.
During the survey interviews, some interesting ideas bubbled up, and we plan to use a portion of the Cabot Foundation funding to offer mini grants for outside-the-box community-based activities and events that will attract and engage young families.
We are also happy to announce that Linda Shepard from Stonington has accepted the position of Early Childhood Community Coordinator and will be starting in February to assist parents, families, and educators on a number of projects over the next year. Linda has worked on early-childhood issues and as a Head Start teacher on the Island for over 30 years, and she brings to the job not only these years of experience but also a passion for service. We welcome her to the Healthy Peninsula family, and extend many thanks to the Cabot Foundation and to Rob and Emlyn Cabot.