By Molly Yost
90 percent of a child’s brain development happens in the first few years of life. And, more than one million neural connections are formed in the brain every second.*
These statistics motivate me and my husband to read, play, sing, and interact with our 10-month old son, Jack. As a first-time mom, these statistics also concerned me as I struggled to find high-quality infant childcare that was affordable.
As of June 2016, the capacity of licensed childcare centers, family childcare homes, and preschools in Colorado stood at about 151,000. That’s only enough space for approximately 60 percent of the estimated 244,000 young children in Colorado who likely need childcare while their parents work.**
These challenges are universal, particularly in Denver’s lower-income neighborhoods of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. Currently in these areas, there are 889 children under the age of 6, and only 81 accessible licensed preschool slots available.*** Neighborhoods like these, that have an extreme lack of access to childcare, are typically known as ‘childcare deserts’.
The issues surrounding childcare deserts are compounded by grave environmental and socio-economic factors, like construction, pollution and gentrification.
The first few years of life provide the foundation for learning. However, studies show that significant adversity during childhood can derail healthy development, which then negatively impacts school readiness.
By age three, the average child in a low-income household knows fewer than half as many words as a child in a high-income household. This means that high-quality, birth-to-five programs are critical, especially for children and families facing greater disadvantages.
It’s why I’m proud to work for Mile High United Way. Through partnering with community organizations, we support early childhood education programming to empower parents to be their child’s first and most important teacher. We are committed to ensuring all children, especially those in under-resourced neighborhoods like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, enter school ready to learn and thrive.
Through Mile High United Way’s United for Families Initiative, we are supporting early childhood education through the following ways: removing barriers to access for families, providing professional development training to early childcare providers, and impacting systemic change through policy initiatives. In addition, we are investing in local organizations, like La Piñata del Aprendizaje.
La Piñata del Aprendizaje is an two-generation early education program in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. With the support of Mile High United Way, the “play and learn” program provides parents and caregivers with the tools they need to support their child’s school readiness. Guadelupe and Blanca, co-founders of La Piñata del Aprendizaje, are two of the most warm and passionate women I’ve come to meet.
I first met them in the multi-purpose room of an unassuming church that had been completely transformed into a playful learning environment. When I walked inside, Guadelupe and Blanca, along with 16 parents/caregivers and 18 children, were reading, singing, and playing together.
The program consists of 35 weekly, two-hour sessions, that create an enriching and stimulating environment for the children. Through this thoughtful programming, La Piñata del Aprendizaje is filling an important void in their community, where there are currently no licensed infant or toddler childcare slots available. In this cohort, 66% of children were under the age of three.
The children are making tremendous gains and are on their way to being ready to enter kindergarten. Evidence-based curriculum and assessments are used to support each child in meeting key developmental milestones across domains like communication and problem solving. The power of this program also lies in its impact on the parents, who are encouraged to engage in the assessment data and continue best practices at home. Here’s what a parent recently said:
“The program has helped me tremendously with my daughter and her social-emotional development. La Piñata is a bridge to a wealth of resources. Thanks to them, I learned about the programs at the public library and the community organizations that exist in my neighborhood.”
To move the needle on school readiness in Denver, it will take nonprofits, businesses, and government supporting both increased access to high-quality childcare as well as innovative, effective, and culturally relevant programs, like La Piñata.
Mile High United Way is committed to improving the fabric of our childcare landscape. Learn more about our Early Childhood Education Initiatives and how you can get involved.
Molly Yost is Mile High United Way’s Director of Early Childhood Initiatives. She is tasked with designing and implementing the organization’s early childhood strategy. Previously, she worked on an $11.5M privately-funded initiative designed to fuel community collaboration to improve children’s social-emotional health and development. She is also experienced in policy development, where her accomplishments include the passage of nationally recognized bi-partisan legislative reforms to improve the state’s childcare assistance program, along with over $20M in state investments in early childhood. Molly and her husband are living and breathing all things early childhood after welcoming their first son, Jack, in September 2018.
* Brain Architecture | Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
** 2018 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! | Colorado Children’s Campaign
*** Globeville & Elyria Swansea, Community Facts | Denvermetrodata.org