United Way effort aims to bolster early learning

Posted June 10, 2010, at 6:48 p.m.

The headline in the May 19 Bangor Daily News was an attention-getter: “4th graders’ reading levels raise alarm.” United Way of Eastern Maine and its partners are joined in an effort to stem that tide.

It’s the simple things that make a difference in building a young child’s foundation for future success. It’s not flash cards or expensive educational toys — it’s making your grocery trip into a treasure hunt for colors and shapes. Turning laundry-sorting into a silly song. Or on your next walk, narrating your child’s actions as if you were a sports announcer. Even dinner can become a learning opportunity, as your toddler builds math skills by counting eggs.

That’s the idea behind the new Born Learning public engagement campaign, and more specifically, a brand-new Born Learning Trail, which will open this Saturday at the Herbert Sargent Community Center on Bennoch Road in Old Town. Sponsored by Sargent Corp., Bangor Savings Bank and the Old Town Parks and Recreation Department, and with the invaluable assistance of volunteers from the University of Maine, United Technology Center and the Job Corps, the Old Town Born Learning Trail will become a new favorite place for children, their parents and caregivers to interact. United Way of Eastern Maine is pleased and proud to be a partner in its planning and construction.

The goal of Born Learning is to provide parents, grandparents and caregivers with easy, concrete “action steps” they can take, during everyday activities, to enrich early learning. The reality is that children are learning constantly, right from birth. We know that what happens in a child’s early years matters, and that the adults in their lives can provide loving, nurturing support in very simple ways to build a strong foundation for future success.

Here at United Way of Eastern Maine, we’re hoping to find more community partners to help us build several more Born Learning Trails. Why are we doing this? The fact is, nearly half of U.S. kindergartners enter school with underdeveloped learning skills. According to the U.S. Department of Education, these kindergartners fall behind their peers in essential skills such as reading. And low-income children are at least one to two years behind.

Too many children are coming to school prepared to fail — in school, work and life.

Our efforts are in support of the research cited by Dean Crocker of the Maine’s Children’s Alliance that says, “From kindergarten to grade three, a child learns to read and from grade four on, a child reads to learn” (BDN, May 19). That’s why we’re conducting the Born Learning campaign — as part of this community’s commitment to ensure every child comes to school prepared to succeed as their education unfolds.

It has been proved that quality early learning in the first few years is a strong foundation for school success. The 40-year High/Scopes Perry Preschool study shows that investing in early learning early on pays huge dividends later on — in reduced crime, fewer teen pregnancies, more high school graduates, and more individual success in work and life.

But parents sometimes undervalue their role in preparing their children for school success, don’t always know what to do to encourage early learning, and don’t think they have time to do what it takes. (Those are results from public opinion research conducted by United Way and its Born Learning partners.) In response to these needs, Born Learning can help parents relax, have fun and use everyday activities to create fun learning moments for young children.

So please join us Saturday and see our area’s first Born Learning Trail for yourselves. See how, with community partners working together, we can provide some really meaningful and educational resources for our children today and into the future.

What young children learn depends on the experiences they have each and every day, especially in the early years. At United Way of Eastern Maine, we see this as one of our greatest challenges, and one of our greatest opportunities. Please join us in this effort. When our community works together, we can do what matters most for our children.

John Kuropchack is the CEO of United Way of Eastern Maine. A Family Summer Fun Day at the Herbert Sargent Community Center is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. To learn more about local Born Learning Trails, call United Way of Eastern Maine at 941-2800.

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