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Study Highlights Benefits Of Early Childhood Education And The Need For Investment

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The Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy
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A seven-month study exploring early childhood education finds Franklin County lagging behind the nation in enrollment and significant differences in the experiences children have at home compared to out-of-home care settings. 

The Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy conducted the study in part to identify and evaluate the educational experiences for children under the age of five in Franklin County. It found 70,000 households in the county with kids in that age group. The research sampled 45 different zip codes and three Columbus neighborhoods: the Hilltop, Linden, and South Side.

Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Science Dr. Arya Ansara noted the study identified some distinct experiences. 

"Children who are cared for at home are far more likely to be playing alone or with an adult, relative to children in an early child education setting," Dr Ansara continued. "Children in an early childhood education setting are more than twice as likely to be playing with other children. Children who are being cared for at the home are far more likely to be watching television or engaging and playing with iPads or phones. Children in early childhood settings or early childhood education programs are three to four times more likely to be engaging in cognitively-enriching and academically-stimulating activities such as reading books, working on numbers, arts and crafts relative to children being cared for in a home environment."

The study found that enrollment in such programs in Franklin County lags behind the national average by about ten percentage points. Obstacles families face include access to high quality programming and a lack of care offered during non-traditional hours. The industry also continues to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown. Anneliese Johnson, principal of the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning, reflected on the pandemic's effect. 

"It shifted my field and my career from early childhood education to the work of getting other people back to work," Principal Johnson continued. "We still need to really hammer home the data that this is showing. This is really hard work. It's really important work. It's work that gets a huge return on investment. If we invest now in early childhood, we're going to save ourselves money, time, and family hardship and the repair work we do in middle school, high school and beyond. When families wonder about having early childhood care, we need to say of course you do because of all the benefits for it." 

Absent early childhood education, kids entering kindergarten are at a greater risk for difficulty in literacy, social skills, math, and self-regulation. Studies have shown in some cases that kids are up to two full years behind where they should be academically.

Columbus City Councilmember Elizabeth Brown plans to sponsor legislation next week to expand the number of openings for kids in the city's Early Start program, but she also called for more action.

"Access means quality, affordable, proximate, culturally-competent options for early education and care," Columbus City Councilmember Elizabeth Brown said. "That will take eliminating child care deserts, pushing the state to pay for the quality it is mandating in this sector in order to support higher pay for early childhood educators, and fighting for universal Pre-K in our community. It's together that these changes will really help level the playing field for every family in Columbus." 

Researchers hope the report serves as a baseline to assess future county-wide efforts to promote ECE programming and participation as a means to enhancing kindergarten readiness for all young children.

Here's a copy of the full report

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. He earned Broadcasting and Journalism degrees from the University of Florida.