BUCKSPORT, Maine — Most people at some time have played peek-a-boo with an infant or I Spy with a toddler.
Research now shows that those types of activities can be among the building blocks of a child’s learning development and can help start a child on the road to being ready to enter school.
The Bucksport Bay Early Childhood Network, United Way of Eastern Maine and Child and Family Opportunities have joined forces in a five-year pilot program to find ways to interact regularly with young children in an effort to increase the number of children entering school ready to learn.
The joint effort will tie into United Way’s national “Born Learning” program, which is designed to help parents, caregivers and communities create early learning opportunities for young children.
“This collaboration gives us access to the technical assistance, training and other resources to help us plan our effort to reach more families in our communities,” said Mary Jane Bush, the director of the area Healthy Communities Coalition, which oversees the Early Childhood Network.
The network hopes to involve more members of the community, particularly local businesses, in the early childhood program and to make more parents of children under 5 aware of the resources available to them in the area.
According to Anna Libby, United Way’s Born Learning and School Readiness VISTA worker assigned to the pilot program, Born Learning is a “public engagement campaign” to involve people in early education. Libby said the United Way chapter was impressed with the progress the Bucksport area already has made.
“We were impressed with how well you’re working together already,” she said. “It is important to have the entire community involved, and to understand that it is a benefit to the community to have children prepared for school.”
The first years of a child’s development are critical because this is when the brain is developing most rapidly. The premise behind the program is that children are born learning and that enjoyable everyday moments can be learning experiences.
“Play is learning for a child,” said Charlie Zeph, the director for Child Care Opportunities at Child and Family Opportunities’ Resource Development Center. “A good learning environment is a good play environment. That’s their job.”
Marcel Marble, the principal at the Miles Lane and Jewett Schools, said that a child’s readiness to learn is a key factor in their ultimate success in school. Those who come to the first day of school well-prepared have a much better chance of success, she said.
Representatives from the different agencies have been meeting for several months preparing for the collaborative program and anticipate having some tangible outcomes as early as next year.
Zeph works with child care providers in Washington and Hancock counties, and hopes the collaboration will help to develop a support system for those people. He said they’d like to have something in place in January. In addition, he said, the joint effort will be able to share any system or program developed in Bucksport with providers in the two counties.
The Born Learning program also has a variety of resources for parents and caregivers. According to Katie Hodgins, director of the Bucksport Area Child Care Center, those resources will be available to area parents through the program.
“There is a lot of information on how to prepare their child for school,” she said. “We’ll be using those materials with our families and we’ll introduce those materials at the School Readiness Fair.”
According to Bush, the program also will help the Early Childhood Network to track key health education indicators that they’ve previously identified and to assess if improvements have been made. It is likely, she said, that in the process, they will identify other indicators that they can monitor.