MARQUETTE - Early childhood education is the new buzz phrase in the state of Michigan, as Gov. Rick Snyder has pledged to continue funding early education programs throughout the state.
He called for a "major budget commitment" to early childhood programming during his Jan. 16 State of the State address.
Marquette County YMCA's Early Childhood Development Center, located inside the Vandenboom Center in Marquette, is one local program that offers a high level of quality for parents looking to give their young children a foundation leading into kindergarten .
Thomas Matthews, age 3, plays with his toy during recess at Vandenboom School. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
Cheryl Lewis, the Y's child development leader, said early childhood education was no longer something that simply provides a benefit for young kids, only offering an edge over the competition. Now, she said, it's a necessity.
"They need to have it," Lewis said. "It gives them the foundation they need to start. The skills they need in order to be successful once they start kindergarten. "
It appears kids are never to young for their formal education to begin, either. Lewis said the Y's program offers instruction for kids as young as 6 weeks. The teachers help the children work on developing motor skills by having a routine "tummy time." They are also read to, to help begin fostering early literacy skills.
That type of instruction is continued, all the way through the Y's program, which offers classes for infants, toddlers as well as school age children.
Lewis said the formal instruction is not just good for the students academically, but also helps the student learn the crucial social skills they'll need to have to be successful in the K-12 education system.
"It helps build positive relationships with their peers, with adults," Lewis said. "They learn to work cooperatively together. We also work on their language, they're getting a jump start on their expressive vocabulary. We have family style meals, where we sit with the kids, interact and talk to them during that time. They are engaged in a lot of conversations.
"I think it definitely helps increase their vocabulary," Lewis added. "We work on things like solving problems, making connections, recognizing symbols and images, understanding characteristics of living things. We do all of that as well as deliver the literacy part."
Many area parents are recognizing the need to have their kids start their education young.
Lewis said every class offered at the Vandenboom Center, with the exception of the school-age children class, currently has a waiting list.
The Y's program is one of few in the state that have earned accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Lewis said it is a prestigious accreditation that is not easy to come by.
Part of the accreditation requires the program's lead teachers to be certified. Lewis said all the lead teachers in the Y's early education program have a degree in either early childhood education or child development. And, all of the assistant teacher are either currently pursuing an education degree or have an associate's degree.
Though classes are full, Lewis said parents looking to enroll their children in the program can contact the Vandenboom center at 237-1121.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.