A recent study confirmed what educators have long known – that access to quality early learning has a long-lasting effect on a student’s later success. Children with access to quality early learning opportunities are more prepared for kindergarten. They have increased vocabulary, better language, math and social skills, and more positive relationships with classmates.

As they go forward in school and life, kids who participated in a quality preschool program are less likely to need special education services or be held back a grade, and are more likely to graduate and go on to college. In fact, quality early learning programs can boost high school graduation rates by more than 10 percent and decreases a child’s chance of being held back a grade by 8 percent.

Unfortunately, only one in five Arizona 3 and 4 year olds are enrolled in quality early learning programs. Education groups all over the state have coalesced around the Arizona Education Progress Meter and are working to increase that number, so that more youth have the smart start that they need. And beyond getting students enrolled, groups like First Things First and Southwest Human Development are helping to ensure that early childhood educators are effective in the classroom.

So how can you help your child develop these early language, math and thinking skills at home? It’s as easy as reciting your A, B, Cs. Kids’ brains develop rapidly in the first five years of life, which is a critical time for language learning. And the skills they’ll need in the future – speaking, reading, vocabulary – are developing now. Just like a sponge, their brains are soaking in everything they come in contact with. So have a back-and-forth conversation with them. Even if they can’t talk back!

Here are a few specific things that you can do:

  • While you’re going through normal daily activities, describe what you’re doing. You can use the names of objects, describe their color and shape and even share how you’re using them.
  • Encourage interaction by asking questions. Ask questions about the things around them and encourage them to respond, whether they can talk or not. Even smile or a coo counts.
  • Respond when your child wants to interact. Whether they’re using words, babbles or simply facial expressions, babies and toddlers learn communication skills through conversation.
  • Read to them every day. Age appropriate books are great learning experiences, since their growing brain responds to sights, rhyming and even the textures incorporated into the story.
  • Use repetition. Repeating words and simple sentences will help cement meaning and grammar for your child.

Even babies who can’t talk yet are learning by listening to you. They’re also closely watching your facial expressions and body language to learn deeply about communication. Thankfully, the best think that you can do to set your child up for success is easy, free and simple. Just talk! Quality back-and-forth conversations will help them to develop the skills that they need to be successful in the future.

Expect More Arizona is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan education advocacy organization working to ensure every child receives an excellent education every step of the way. For more information visit ExpectMoreArizona.org.

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