Patriot News Op-ed: We Need to Do All We Can to Ensure Kids Have Access to Quality Pre-K Education: Patricia Hunter

Recognizing colors and learning to play in the sandbox with others are integral components to development, but as a pre-K educator I know that there is so much more.

As executive director of Spring Garden Children’s Center in Easton, Northampton County, I have been immersed in early learning for more than 40 years.

To me, there is no doubt that an early childhood education provides students with a solid foundation for the rest of their educational career and into adulthood.

There is no greater frustration for me and my fellow educators than to see young children pass through those formative years with no access to early childhood education.

The first five years of a child’s life are crucial with 90 percent of brain development occurring. What they learn and experience during those first five years will build the foundation of their emotional, social, and educational success for the rest of their lives.

We should be doing everything we can to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality pre-k education to build that solid foundation. That’s why I support Pre-K for PA.

I believe that preschool not only prepares children for academic success – it also prepares them for social and emotional success.

And the emotional aspects have proven to be infinitely more important than just learning the ABC’s.

In my classrooms I have seen young students struggling with behavioral problems learn coping mechanisms, gain self-confidence, and develop independence. They grow to accept differences amongst their peers and learn to work as part of a team.

In the long-term, I believe that we have altered many children’s paths: curbing bullying tendencies, offering the skills to deal with anger, and providing the confidence to pursue their dreams.

I traveled to Harrisburg this week as part of the Pre-K for PA Capitol Caravan to help educate our leaders in Harrisburg about the value of access to early learning.

If I could, I would show each legislator something that happens in pre-K classrooms across Pennsylvania – a classroom full of 4-year olds working together as a team to build a giant block castle.

Seeing the cooperation, the problem solving and creativity of a young group like this is amazing.

This is an example of integrated learning through structured and free play, which provides reading, writing, science, and math experiences as well as the social and emotional building blocks.

Students gain skills needed to be successful in life and become secure in the knowledge of what is expected of them in school.

The research supporting benefits of a preschool education is staggering. Not only does the student benefit, but ultimately so does the taxpayer and the economy as a whole.

There is huge support and understanding of this important element of a child’s education, yet one in every six 3- and 4-year olds in commonwealth does not have access to a high-quality preschool.

For the sake of our children and a stronger Pennsylvania, the time has come to change that.

Patricia Hunter is the executive director of the Spring Garden Children’s Center in Easton, Pa.