PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — KinderCare is celebrating its 50th year with Portland families this month.
To commemorate this milestone, they’re reflecting on what’s changed in early childhood education.
“Being a part of their life is huge, basically I feel like their mom here growing up,” said Yun Choi, a preschool teacher at KinderCare in downtown Portland.
Decades ago, preschool was looked at as daycare. But today, Choi said, preschool is seen as an instrumental role in preparing kids academically, socially and emotionally for their years ahead.
Dr. Elanna Yalow has been in early childhood education for the past 3 decades.
The KinderCare chief academic officer said the breakthrough came with brain science research.
“That really changed the focus on understanding how we can really make a difference in children’s lives starting at the earliest ages,” said Dr. Yalow.
“Children learn through play,” she said. “Giving them time to learn their environments, to test their own limits, to challenge themselves to play with friends — to learn those kinds of skills is critical for their development.”
They also have an intentional curriculum to ensure students are ready for kindergarten. KinderCare specifically designs activities to promote skills consistent with how kids naturally play.
“We’re building an environment where children are having fun and they’re playing and they’re engaged,” Dr. Yalow said. “But, we know we’re kind of the masters behind the scenes.”
For example, you’ll see kids learn colors and flavors through an imaginative ice cream shop.
They can experience a family favorite — spaghetti and meatballs — through senses and shapes, or you’ll find them exploring the differences between sizes and smells of fruits through art.
Overall, KinderCare educators say it’s important to develop a literacy-rich and language-rich environment at preschool and at home.
“Education starts at birth, so make sure you’re reading with your child, singing with your child and talking with your child,” Dr. Yalow said. “Not just reading lots of books, but having a lot of discussions about them too.”
Adult involvement, she said, is the key to positive brain stimulation.
“Healthy brain circuitry is interaction between a responsive caring adult and a young child,” Dr. Yalow said.
She also said they do observational research to determine the differences between kids who aren’t exposed to early childhood education.
“I think the most obvious one is some of the lack of socialization if they haven’t been in a group environment,” she said. “They may not know how to take turns, to share or cooperate with other children — and particularly as you enter kindergarten those are such critical skills.”
In the past 5 decades, our world has changed dramatically with more technology and screen time. Preschools have to carefully navigate this because it tends to be a more solitary activity, yet students still need to know how to use these tools.
“We are really careful about how we use it with our children and making sure we’re helping them be much more active producers of technology versus passive consumers of technology,” she said.
Plus, an increase in single-family homes over the years has caused a higher demand for childcare and more individualized needs.
“There’s no one definition of family,” she said. “We know we have to provide extra support for those challenges.”
Despite these obstacles, quality early childhood education has dramatically minimized the achievement gap between different socioeconomic classes, giving kids a more equal opportunity at success.
For new parents at home, here are some words of wisdom:
“The biggest piece of advice I ever give parents is just get ready to enjoy the experience,” Dr. Yalow said. “You’re entering the most miraculous phase of your life so trust your instincts — there’s a lot of authorities, but nobody knows your child or your family better than you do.”