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A continual challenge faced by local schools and childcare agencies is how to actively engage parents in the daily activities and education of their children. With the Heart of Illinois United Way’s Success by Six initiative, this challenge will be the focus of new programming in upcoming months.

Success by Six is focused on ensuring that all children, from birth to age six, are healthy, safe, nurtured and ready to succeed. A community-based committee of public and private partners, Success by Six is bringing together community leaders, corporations, educators, advocates and parents to develop initiatives tailored to the developmental needs of children in the Peoria area. The primary objectives of the program include creating public awareness of early developmental opportunities, improving the quality of and access to services for young children and creating and backing public policy that supports the well-being of children.

Since the initiative is dedicated to the collection of data and the development of research-based plans to achieve community change, the Bradley University Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research recently conducted a “School Readiness” report. Kindergarten and preschool teachers from District 150 and Tazewell County, each with an average of 17 years of experience, participated in one-on-one interviews with Bradley faculty and staff. Participants answered key questions about issues affecting the education of young children in the Peoria area.

Findings from the study focus not only on parental engagement, but also on how income and literacy levels affect children in preschool and kindergarten. Teachers interviewed in the study stressed that parents in low-income families often do not have the time to read with their children because they work two or more jobs. Many also felt that improving parental involvement is key to improving a child’s behavior, developmental and reading and writing skills. Parents who participate in educational and family activities with their children become more interested in and motivated to see their children succeed.

Some suggestions to improve parental involvement, generated from study participants, include encouraging parents of young children to read a book to their child before bed, providing early childhood developmental information to new parents and creating programs geared toward the entire family.

The childcare providers in the study also indicated they would like to create or improve fun, educational programs for parents so they will be more aware of and involved in the educational goals for their children. It is vital that parents understand the importance of early childhood development.

When asked what would help these educators the most in their classrooms, more funding—specifically for books, educational materials, software, etc.—was cited as the key resource which would enable childcare providers to better partner with parents in readying young children for success in school. For pre-kindergartners, the agencies surveyed felt that earlier screening, a larger budget for educational materials and better qualified teachers/staff would be the key factors which would lead to success in school. Making preschool available to all children was also very important.

Beginning at birth, children are constantly learning. Their early years are especially important, as they are the foundation for growth and development. Parents and caregivers of young children understand this, yet many aren’t sure how to encourage early learning. Through current Success by Six materials, such as the “BornLearning” public service announcements and the 15-month “Getting Ready for School” calendar, the Heart of Illinois United Way is taking steps to ensure that parents and caregivers are able to make the most of children’s early years when educating. IBI

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