Molding academic success, social responsibility, starts early

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Start early: Several educators promote the idea of starting children in preschool at a young age because an individual's most important brain development occurs between birth and the age of 5. | File photo

Fifty years ago, a town in Michigan with high poverty and crime rates began a project that opened eyes to the importance of early education.

The Perry Preschool Project targeted about 120 3- and 4-year-olds, using a problem-solving approach to learning, social development and parental involvement in the children’s education. Forty years later, researchers found the participants have more family stability, earn more money, are less likely to receive welfare, and are less involved in crime than others their age in their area.

Today, local academies and preschools are taking the concept of early education one step further, beginning the teaching process when the child is as young as 1-year-old, also integrating parental involvement and social interaction in a structured environment.

Early and active

David Tasch, owner of ABC Academy in Hobart, which serves about 150 children, points out that a person’s most important brain development takes place from birth to age 5. Plus, he said, children want to go to school when they are younger, making it easier for them to get on board with the learning process.

“All children want to learn. We are the necessity in their lives,” Tasch said.

The academy takes children from birth, but at age 1 they begin spending a small portion of their day in an elementary school-type structure, where certain work is done at a certain time. Tasch said the structured time is gradually increased each year so that by the time they reach first grade school is easy for them.

“Keep them active and involved. It’s easy,” Tasch said.

Vercena Stewart, principal of Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary, agrees that structure is important in the learning process, even at a young age.

“Children start to regress when they are in an unstructured environment,” Stewart said.

She said Ambassador Christian Academy begins teaching children at 18 months of age using an accelerated curriculum and faith-based program while exposing the children to social and cultural issues. The academy has more than 300 students from 18 months to eighth grade.

Involving parents and grandparents

“Our children can read starting at age 2,” Stewart said.

Kim Kulpa, director of Holy Family Child Care Center in Crown Point, said the instructors there “are not babysitters” to the 140 enrolled children ranging in age from birth to age 12. She said every class makes a curriculum in which they are doing a lot of different activities.

Kulpa said children can choose what area in a classroom they would like to work — from building with blocks and Legos to an art table — then talk about what they did to the other children.

“It builds upon itself,” she said of the learning process.

She said the children work on basic academic skills, getting along with other children, and begin doing problem-solving skills at age 2 or 3. The children at Holy Family also interact with the elderly residents at the adjacent nursing home, helping them to develop social responsibility.

“Every day a class goes there. It’s beneficial for both sides. Some kids don’t have great-grandparents and some of the elderly residents don’t have great-grandchildren,” Kulpa said.

All three early learning facilities encourage parental involvement.

Stewart said some parents help grade papers, one dad works with kids on reading and others get involved by helping to prepare and serve a Thanksgiving meal for the kids. She said all who do come into the school are given a background check.

Tasch said parents need to reinforce what is being taught at the school and become involved from an early age on.

“Parents can’t just drop their kids off at 8 a.m. and pick them up at 5 p.m.,” he said.

He tells parents they need to read their child’s daily report card on every day.

“If the child had a good day at school, he or she should be rewarded at home. If the child had a bad day at school, there should be consequences,” Tasch said.