'Let's Grow Kids:' Research shows Vermonters unaware of importance of the earliest years

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'Let's Grow Kids:' Research shows Vermonters unaware of importance of the earliest years

Fri, 04/25/2014 - 3:38pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Tiny bubbles and children's voices filled the air at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington today as the statewide campaign, Let's Grow Kids, officially launched. Business leaders, early childhood professionals, public officials and many others attended the event, which also featured several hands-on activities for children - who represent the very heart of the campaign.

"Giving our children a solid start in life is a value we all share," said Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director for Let's Grow Kids. "These children will be our community leaders, our teachers, our doctors...we want all Vermonters to understand how very important the earliest years of our children's lives are not only to their future, but to our state's future as well."

Speakers at the event included Dr. Joseph Hagan, MD, FAAP, a long-time Burlington pediatrician and chair of the Vermont Citizen's Advisory Board (VCAB) for the Vermont Agency of Human Services Department for Children and Families. Hagan spoke about the early years of development and the importance of reading aloud to children.

"The years from birth to five are a time of rapid growth and development, cognitively as well as socially and emotionally in our children," said Dr. Joseph Hagan, MD, FAAP. "Brains are built by the early experiences and relationships a child has in these early years...the brain connections made during this time lay the foundation for a lifetime."

Research conducted by Hart Research Associates in December showed that Vermonters are not aware of the significant development that occurs during the first three years of life. About 80% of a child's crucial brain development happens before age three, and 90% by age five.

"It's a whole lot easier to prevent problems than it is to fix them later," added Dr Hagan.

Tim Volk, co-chair, Building Bright Futures State Council, reported on data from the organization's April 2014 report, "How Are Vermont's Young Children?"

"Only 32% of parents of infants, toddlers, and young children age 0-5 reported their children received developmental screenings in 2011-12," said Volk. "Thirty-two percent of third graders are reading below grade level."

According to Volk, recent Kindergarten Readiness Surveys from the Agency of Education show 40-50% of Vermont's children are assessed as unprepared for school in all 5 domains. 

LouAnn Beninati, program specialist for Vermont Birth To Three, talked about the importance of high quality early care. Beninati reported that, in Vermont, 70% of parents with children under age 6 are in the workforce, which translates to children spending as much as 40 hours a week or more in care outside the home.

"Where, how and with whom they spend that time is extremely important," said Beninati. "We need to ensure that all children are spending time in quality, nurturing environments - wherever they are."

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power Corporation, echoed Beninati's comments about the need to invest in the early years.

"Parents rely on childcare so they can come to work each day and be productive and provide for their families," said Powell. "The quality of our future workforce depends upon giving our children a firm foundation for the rest of their lives...babies matter to business."

Freedner-Maguire wrapped up the event with a call to action to attendees. "We need everyone working on this issue - parents and non-parents, educators, business leaders, childcare providers, public officials - it takes all of us to grow our kids. Please visit our website, join our campaign and find out how you can help us spread the word."

To learn how to get involved with Let's Grow Kids, visit letsgrowkids.org.

About Let's Grow Kids

Let's Grow Kids, a statewide public education campaign, aims to raise understanding of the importance of the earliest years in the lives of Vermont's children. Funded by a collaboration of private foundations, Let's Grow Kids is working with Vermont communities, organizations, businesses, and individuals to create positive lasting change that will allow all of our children to succeed in life. For more information, visit letsgrowkids.org.

Follow us on Twitter: @LetsGrowKids

Like us on FaceBook: facebook.com/LetsGrowKids 

Photos by Vermont Business Magazine. From top, children play before the event, as childcare was provided. Dr Hagan, Mary Powell, Jessica Perrotte, and Tim Volk.