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Friday, August 11, 2017

I Was an Early Learner

One of my earliest childhood memories in the early 1950s is sitting in my mother's lap, my head resting against her chest, as she read me "The Story of Babar the Little Elephant" with all those colorful illustrations. It was one of my favorite books at the time. The rocking chair whispered a soft, familiar creak as it went gently back and forth.

I don't know if she was aware of the long-lasting benefit to this little girl of that simple moment and so many others like it.

Well, perhaps she was.

Here she is in 1930 with her mother, my beloved maternal grandma. See anything significant?

When I was growing up, our household was filled with music, literature, board games, family discussions during breakfast and dinner and so many other activities. As my siblings and I grew a little older, I constantly leafed through the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Book of Knowledge that had places of honor among the many crowded bookshelves in our home. We were so fortunate to have parents who instilled in us a lifelong love of learning.

A generation later, I created moments of my own with my first-born daughter Becky and youngest daughter Jessica by reading to them and later with them, beginning with picture books when they were infants, nursery rhymes as toddlers and so many wonderful children's books in their elementary years. 

By the time they were in high school in the 1980s and no longer at home for long hours at a time, we sometimes shared the same book, each of us reading a chapter or two and then passing it on to the other two as they took their turns. No spoilers were allowed, so we continued trading off, little by little, until we each finished the last word in the last chapter of a novel. Only then did we discuss and critique the book in enthusiastic detail (Mario Puzo's "The Sicilian" immediately comes to mind).

As my children's mother, this all came naturally to me, I think, because of the environment in which I was raised and the special traditions my family had when I was growing up.

But not all parents have similar memories and experiences.

This is exactly the purpose an exciting and important new movement I am pleased to be part of: Pasadena as an Early Learning City. It's all about the importance of parents and other caregivers reading, talking, singing and playing with young children from infancy to age 5.

Why? Because study after study over the course of decades has proven the first five years of life are crucial in the development of a child's brain, one of very few organs that is not fully formed at birth. This is the reason young children learn more quickly and retain more information than at any other times in their lives. 

It's why a young child can learn a second language so easily while an adult often struggles with it, why a young child can learn to read so much more easily than a previously non-reading adult in a literacy class and why a young child is so much more imaginative with, say, a couple of blocks than an adult who simply sees an object for what it is. 

Are you connecting the dots yet? 

When parents and other caregivers engage in positive ways with children -- by singing, reading, talking and playing -- beginning at infancy and continuing through age 5 at a minimum, those children develop skills that impact their future ability to learn as well as their social, emotional and physical well-being.

Sounds simple, right?

So why is it that six of 10 children nationwide who enter kindergarten are already behind when they walk in the door their first day of school, leading to a cycle of remedial catch-up that can last for years?

For the answer, let's go back to those parents who are overwhelmed or poorly educated or not aware of the incredible resources for parents and young children in Pasadena.

The Pasadena as an Early Learning City movement will create meaningful, collaborative relationships among all those resources, build awareness of them and create easy access to them. Parents will become empowered to make use of these programs and build their own skills while staying connected to local resources and opportunities.

What can you do?

Come to a very special community event Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Brookside Park where there will be children's activities for different age groups, healthy cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs Jet and Ali Tila, arts and crafts, entertainment, healthy snacks, oodles of information about resources for parents of young children and much more.

This will be the big kick-off but it won't end there. The goal is to make Pasadena renowned as an Early Learning City by 2025. This movement is spearheaded by the City of Pasadena Office of the Young Child. 

Several months ago I was asked to serve on the Pasadena Council for the Young Child, which provides support for the Office of the Young Child. The council, chaired by Dr. Vera Vignes, is a coalition of local experts in early learning, health care, education, social services and other related fields. I have been happy to bring my 40+ years of communications experience to the effort. It is such a pleasure to work with so many people I know well and get to know others better. 
The City of Pasadena Office of the Young Child is led by Lila Guirguis, who formerly was with First 5 LA. You can learn more about this office by clicking on the link two paragraphs up, which will take you to a Facebook page. Once you get there and start poking around, be sure to click on "About" on the left side of the screen to learn how the office was established and why it matters. 

Lila will have her hands full with her many duties, not the least of which will be cross-coordinating the many resources in Pasadena that serve our youngest children and their parents -- from city departments to schools to nonprofits -- so they will begin to work collaboratively as the Pasadena as an Early Learning City movement proceeds into the future.

I hope to see you on Sept. 23! 


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