When most people hear the word “education” they immediately think of school, usually starting with kindergarten. But the truth is, learning doesn’t begin when we start school – it begins at birth. The first few years of our lives are a period of incredible learning and development and by the time we turn three we already have many of the skills and abilities we need to succeed at school. That’s why it is so important to ensure that every child in our community grows up in a healthy and nurturing environment and that communities support families with young children. Research shows that children who do are more likely to:
- be successful in school, have fewer learning disabilities and be more likely to finish high school and seek further education or training,
- be more productive in the workforce, hold better jobs, earn more, pay more taxes and own their own homes, and
- be healthier throughout their lives, physically and mentally, with a lower risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, depression and substance abuse.
Although we live in one of the most prosperous communities in Canada, 41,000 children in the Alberta Capital Region live in poverty. There are many factors that contribute to children falling behind in their development, but we know that children who grow up in poverty and with other social disadvantages are much more likely to start school behind and often struggle to catch up with their peers. According to research done by the Early Childhood Mapping Project of Alberta (ECMap), a significant percentage of children in the Alberta Capital Region are experiencing developmental difficulties by the time they reach kindergarten. In fact, in Edmonton, 32 per cent of kindergarten children are experiencing great difficulty in one or more areas of development. This compares to 30 per cent of kindergarten children in Alberta and 25 per cent in Canada. (This percentage does not include children with severe diagnosed disabilities). These children may struggle with basic, age-appropriate tasks such as holding a crayon, climbing stairs, following simple instructions and getting along with other children.
The good news is, there are many things we can do as individuals and as a community to turn this around. United Way is focused on helping end poverty in our region and is committed to increasing the understanding of the importance of the early years on a child’s development and how that is linked to their future success, through programs like Success By 6® and the Early Years Continuum Project. There are also many resources available to parents with young children on how to best support their child’s healthy development.
Shouldn’t every child, no matter what their family circumstances, have the same opportunity to succeed? As a community, by accepting anything less, we all live with the consequences. It’s up to all of us to ensure that each child in every family is given the chance to reach their full potential.