Commentary: Smart Start’s first 2,000 days campaign seeks lifetime of results

Did you know that there are only 2,000 days between the time a baby is born and when that child shows up for the first day of kindergarten? Did you know that 90 percent of brain development happens during these first 2,000 days? During this time, the brain architecture is forming, creating the foundation for all future learning.

Experiences during these 2,000 days have a lasting impact on later learning, health and success. That’s because children’s earliest experiences literally determine how their brains are wired. And those experiences lay the groundwork for future health and form the foundation of the social and emotional skills needed for academic and workplace success.

We know through research that high-quality early education yields higher graduation rates, reduced crime, higher earnings and better jobs. As a result, economists estimate that every dollar invested in early education produces a 10 percent return on investment through increased personal achievement and social productivity.

Locally, Smart Start of Buncombe County is leading the First 2,000 Days campaign and engaging our community in a conversation around the importance of investing our time and resources in the county’s youngest children and their families. People are paying attention.

Smart Start of Buncombe County focuses on the development of children from birth to 5 years old, their families and early educators. We develop, fund and offer programs to support affordable, high-quality child care, health, parenting and early literacy to help prepare children for school and life success.

One of ways SSBC supports access to high-quality, affordable early care and education is by administering the Buncombe County North Carolina Pre-kindergarten Program. NC Pre-K provides a free, high-quality educational experience for income-eligible 4-year-olds, in order to enhance their kindergarten readiness. The program’s school year typically runs from August to May, and each school day is 6.5 hours.

NC Pre-K is currently registering students for the 2015-16 school year for children who turn 4 years old by Aug. 31 and whose family income is at or below 75 percent of the state median income.

The NC Pre-K program requirements are built on the premise that children need to be prepared in all five of the developmental domains that are critical to overall well-being and success as they enter school:

• Emotional and social development.
• Language development and communication.
• Cognitive development.
• Health and physical development.
• Approaches to play and learning.

Play and Learn Groups, a family support and early literacy program, is another way Smart Start of Buncombe County directly supports children’s first 2,000 days. These free, eight-week adult-child groups are offered for infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are not enrolled in child care. Groups meet once a week in the morning for 45-minute sessions, and are a great way for families to meet one another while learning how to support their child’s development.

Play and Learn Groups feature hands-on activities, songs, finger plays, stories, games, puppet shows and crafts that focus on pre-literacy skills. Families of infants learn what to expect from their infants as they grow into healthy toddlers, and how to engage with their infants, creating positive attachments. Families of toddlers and preschoolers discover the ways children learn through play and how to build pre-literacy and group socialization skills through fun activities. —

Amy Barry is executive director of Smart Start of Buncombe County.

For more information about Smart Start of Buncombe County and the First 2,000 Days, visit smartstart-buncombe.org. For more information about NC Pre-K, contact Stacey Bailey at 407-2057 or stacey@smartstart-buncombe.net. For more information about Play and Learn Groups, contact Marna Holland at 350-2904 or marna.holland@ashevile.k12.nc.us.

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