Idaho has struggled for years to find the right approach – and the political will – to improve access to quality early learning opportunities. It’s a challenge we have followed closely at the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. And though we appreciate the State Department of Education’s attempt at supporting school readiness through the online program Smarty Ants, we encourage policymakers to look beyond this one resource.
It is true that nearly half of Idaho children enter kindergarten without the foundational academic skills necessary to succeed. And some may believe that children not knowing their ABCs is our biggest challenge when it comes to school readiness. Unfortunately, cognitive development is a small piece of a complex puzzle. Focusing on a child’s development in just one area affects development of other necessary skills. For example, emotional self-regulation and attention control are learned through healthy interactions with nurturing adults and other children. They simply cannot be appropriately taught through a computer program.
Many of Idaho’s youngest children lack opportunities to engage in quality adult-child interactions. Environments that help children develop their social and emotional skills in a healthy way will best support their deeper learning abilities. Those environments also support parents, helping to build a foundation of parent engagement throughout a child’s academic journey.
We recognize that the use of technology is rapidly shaping our society, our young children and our adults. However, technology should not be proposed or perceived as a sole solution to early learning. It should only be used to complement a developmentally appropriate curriculum and enhance a child’s solid developmental foundation.
Adopting the Smarty Ants program will not solve the early learning challenges in Idaho alone. And we hope that it will not create a barrier to continuing the conversation and finding solutions that truly ensure that our children have access to the early learning environments they so desperately need. If we truly want to see improved academic outcomes for our children, Idaho will need to invest in high-quality preschool programs that will support the whole child rather than just one domain.
We ask that Idaho’s State Department of Education, State Board of Education and policymakers continue to look for and champion investments in high-quality early learning that will provide programs and environments best suited to serve our young children’s growth and development. We should not be cutting corners at a time in our children’s lives that significantly impacts their ability to succeed throughout school and beyond.
Written by Beth Oppenheimer, the executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.