Opinion

Family Umbrella Group making a difference for 11 years | Guest Column

By Mary Ann Anderson

In its 11th year, The Family Umbrella Group has never turned down a qualified preschool scholarship application, making it possible for more than 200 local island children to attend the preschool of their choice.

Our annual fund-raiser will be held on April 3 in Mullis Community Senior Center. The theme this year is “Spring at the Seashore” and will include a silent auction and social hour beginning at 11, gourmet lunch served at noon, followed by a live — and lively — auction led by Eugene Cuomo.

The benefits of early childhood education and the return on investment are truly extraordinary. President Obama has singled out early education as an important investment that he will prioritize even in our tight economic times. He clearly understands the research gathered over the past several decades on the significance of early experience, the brain and later learning, especially with low-income children.

A substantial and compelling body of research agrees that early education programs have positive long-term effects on children’s school performance, educational attainment and adult earnings. In other words, it is an investment in our future economic growth which more than offsets its cost: In fact, for every $1 invested in early childhood programs, we get $10 back by decreasing welfare rolls, child abuse, teen-age pregnancy, health care costs, the need for remedial education, and reducing justice system expenditures while increasing good behavior, literacy, learning skills, self-esteem, projected future earnings and tax revenues.

Last week, I asked Friday Harbor first-grade teacher Luanne Pasik for her perspective on the importance of preschool education. “It takes a lot of the teacher’s time in kindergarten and first grade to work with children who don’t know how to cut with scissors, hold crayons and pencils appropriately, to follow lines. It affects the child’s self-esteem when they see others cutting with ease and they need help.

“Social skills are extremely important when a child enters school. If children have appropriate social skills, I am able to focus more time on instruction and on more complex social skills. Through play and conversation, they learn the concept of reciprocity, ‘I talk and you listen, you talk and I listen.’ ”

She continued, “Academic skills have their foundation in early learning experiences. Through block building, children are learning about shapes, spatial relations, balance, cause and effect and number. Through sand and water play, children learn about solid and liquid measurement, quantity, cause and effect. And it’s these tactile experiences that help brain development.”

Ms. Pasik talked about risk-taking in the early years as an important aspect of learning. She explained, “We as adults take so much for granted but for a child it may be too risky to try to sound out a word or raise their hand to answer a question in a group. And it’s this risk-taking that helps to develop confidence.”

The fact is, from the time of conception to the first day of kindergarten, children’s development progresses faster than at any other stage of development. By the age of 3, 85 percent of the brain’s core structure is already formed.

Eighty-five percent.

Brain research shows that young children need to move about while they learn. They need real eye contact and experience with the three dimensional world around them. Young children learn through their senses; through interaction with other children, through structured early learning environments.

We are fortunate to live in a community that recognizes the importance of early education and eagerly supports our endeavors to make certain that no child on our island is denied access to preschool education.

Luncheon tickets should be purchased in advance by sending a check for $30 to Family Umbrella Group, P.O. Box 392, Friday Harbor, WA. 98250 or by contacting Scott Dow at 378-5255. If you cannot attend, please consider donating to our Marian Schuster Memorial Scholarship Fund; 98 percent of your donation goes directly toward preschool scholarships.

The Family Umbrella Group is a non-profit 501 (3) corporation. Our Tax ID number is 91-1889448.

— Mary Ann Anderson (B.S., M.S. Early Childhood Education, Portland State University) is past president of the Family Umbrella Group.

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