Early reading and language get new focus

Gov. Brian Kemp tasked DECAL with creating the Quality Rated Language and Literacy Endorsement to help improve student literacy, and encourage and support child care providers in emphasizing language skills among the state’s birth-to-age 5 population. Among the eight providers who received the endorsement after successfully completing a rigorous nine-month program of training and professional development; demonstrating a commitment to developing meaningful, intentional, and individualized literacy instruction that follows accepted standards; and creating an approved language and literacy instruction sustainability plan was the Giselle Learning Academy in Clarkston.
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Gov. Brian Kemp tasked DECAL with creating the Quality Rated Language and Literacy Endorsement to help improve student literacy, and encourage and support child care providers in emphasizing language skills among the state’s birth-to-age 5 population. Among the eight providers who received the endorsement after successfully completing a rigorous nine-month program of training and professional development; demonstrating a commitment to developing meaningful, intentional, and individualized literacy instruction that follows accepted standards; and creating an approved language and literacy instruction sustainability plan was the Giselle Learning Academy in Clarkston.

Credit: Giselle Learning Academy

Credit: Giselle Learning Academy

New literacy and language endorsement reflects push to ready kids for kindergarten

At the Giselle Learning Academy in Clarkston, it’s midmorning and toddler energy is loosed in all the classrooms, from children galloping, counting and building with blocks. Their delight in their activities is obvious. Less obvious is how each of the activities advances language and literacy skills, from teachers repeating key words to the children to engaging them in conversation on the floor mats.

“Play is the highest form of learning,” said Giselle director Alexandra Cesar. “It is important that learning and teaching are blended with play.”

Giselle is among eight child care centers across Georgia recently awarded an inaugural Quality Rated Language and Literacy Endorsement by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. The endorsement followed nine months of training of the teachers and directors and signals the centers offer high-quality, language-rich environments.

While Giselle Learning Academy always championed reading, Cesar said the language literacy endorsement brought greater intentionality to their efforts and taught them to build on children’s cues and interests.

“The extensive training reenabled all of us to better grasp this concept,” said Cesar. “Our normal teaching activities did not change; however, we did improve our environment by making it more language rich such as the shared little library, our weekly literacy bag home activity and our book of the month display. Parents noticed a change in their children’s learning with the acquisition of a significant increase in their vocabulary and so did we.”

The standard advice on raising readers has long been to read to children nightly and leave good books around. That all helps, but research has deepened our knowledge on how children attain language, and how conversing with them from infancy matters, as does connecting reading with writing.

Neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics reveal most human brain growth occurs before age 5 and is bolstered by a “serve and return” relationship between children and caregivers. Babies serve up their need for interaction through cooing, babbling and facial expressions, and adults, in return, offer up similar sounds and gestures. These exchanges are not only fun for infants, but critical building blocks in teaching them how to communicate and convey their needs.

So, the child care model has shifted from keeping babies and toddlers healthy and safe to offering rich early learning opportunities and social, emotional and cognitive supports, said Gary Bingham, a professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education and the director of the Urban Child Study Center at Georgia State University. “That’s because we have realized the importance of these early years to later learning outcomes.”

“We see pretty big differences in children who have really rich early learning experiences, either in the home or in an early learning program, and those who don’t, and those gaps start to appear at 18 months of age,” said Bingham. And the gaps are greatest among children in marginalized communities who lack the resources to give their children learning opportunities that set them up for school success.

The state’s new literacy and language endorsement reflects Gov. Brian Kemp’s push for more kindergartners to arrive primed to learn. “I am confident as more early educators meet the criteria and benchmarks to receive this endorsement, we will be able to give all of our young learners the strongest possible foundation for academic achievement and overall success in life,” said Kemp.

The governor asked the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning to prioritize strong pre-reading skills. DECAL administers Georgia’s Pre-K program, Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services Program and federal nutrition programs. DECAL also licenses child care centers and home-based child care and manages Quality Rated, Georgia’s child care rating system.

Bingham was among the child development experts who worked 18 months with the agency to design a blueprint. DECAL undertook a pilot with child care centers that were rated high quality and served high-needs populations including families in Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services, or CAPS.

CAPS serves 50,000 children from families with no to low income and helps them with the cost of child care. This week, Kemp expanded CAPS by 10,000 children and lowered the entry income threshold through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The average annual price for full-time infant care in a Georgia center is approximately $8,729 or $168/week, according to the group Child Care Aware of America.

In the pilot, teachers learned how children develop language and the best practices to foster that development. In their 60 hours of training, center directors focused on how to strengthen learning environments, earning them certificates in Early Education Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“It is especially commendable they completed the program while confronting numerous challenges presented by the COVID pandemic,” said DECAL Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs. “Their perseverance demonstrates an admirable commitment to providing high-quality literacy instruction to Georgia’s children and to helping design best practices which will be the standard throughout Georgia.”

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