Although this article is about early childhood education in Kansas, many other states are adding early education to their curriculum. Different states and individual school districts may vary greatly in the nature of programs, but they each have some common goals and features.
Many of the school districts in Kansas are adding prekindergarden programs for children that begin at the age of three. Though the age of three may seem too early to begin a child’s education, there is a growing interest in early childhood education. A child’s brain grows to about 90% of its capacity by the age of five. They are likened to a sponge, soaking up everything they see, hear, and experience. Children are adept at learning language then, and many skills they need later in life build on those early experiences.
The first formal research in the US on early childhood education was in Minnesota in the 1960’s. Two groups of children were randomly divided into an Experimental group, who received two years of early childhood education, and a Control group, who did not. The Experimental group was provided experiences that help children grow and thrive, such as stable and nurturing relationships with other children and adults, a language rich environment, experience with routines, and encouragement to explore through movement and their senses. They also learned to take turns, to lead and follow in play, to seek help when needed, to recognize emotions, and to control their impulses. In addition, they become familiar with numbers, the alphabet, and problem-solving skills.
Upon entering traditional school, the Experimental group members were more successful in the early grades, but it was found that by age 10 they performed about the same as their peers. The researchers were disappointed at first, but when they followed the Experimental group through school and into adulthood, they found many improvements. The experimental group were less likely to repeat grades or need remedial classes, and they were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. They were also more successful in their careers and less likely to experienced health problem or be involved with the criminal justice system.
It was found that the children in early childhood education do better if the parents and caregivers are involved in the process. Many schools involve the parents through home visits and also encourage daycare centers to have children practice skills learned in early childhood education.
Surprisingly, the Federal Reserve is interested in research in early childhood education as a way to improve the workforce and improve economic development. The economic value of early childhood education programs has been found to greatly outweigh the cost. Economists who have analyzed the costs and benefits find that there is a rate of return of $5 to $15 for every dollar invested, with disadvantaged children seeing the greatest benefit. While children and their families benefit from investments in early education, the majority of benefits accrue to communities and society as a whole. It is also likely that the children become better parents and better citizens, extending the benefits forward.
Kansas legislators and educators are becoming more interested in early childhood education as they try to spend education dollars more efficiently. The 2019 Kansas Legislature increased K-12 school funding to allow for inflation, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the increase was adequate. However, Kansas should not be satisfied with just adequate.
Kansas has always been known for its excellent schools, and we should keep it that way. One way to do that would be to increase early education programs. There are both Federal and private grants available to develop early childhood learning programs. The Kansas Legislature should also consider providing additional funding to start and maintain those programs. It would be an efficient way to improve educational outcomes at a minimal cost, and it would be a wise investment in our future.