By Leaps & Bounds

Investments in high-quality early childhood care, education, and support programs do more than help children – they also strengthen our workforce and economy. How are communities in West and Southwest Michigan approaching prevention and early intervention in these systems of care? How do the programs benefit children, families, care and education providers, businesses, and taxpayers? Where are the gaps, and how do we fill them? Come along as we take a closer look.

First Steps Kent
First Steps Kent

The purpose of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage is to provide dedicated and sustainable funding for programs that improve the health, school readiness, and well-being of children under age five; therefore allowing more children and families from across the community to participate in programs that are proven to increase their likelihood of success in school and beyond.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life. Becoming good at math begins long before a child enters school. Each one of us is born to be a “math person” as math concepts help children make sense of the world.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life. Children are able to learn language before they are born – talking, singing, and pointing stimulate the brain, provide clues to the meaning of words, and build important neural connections in the brain.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life and it is never too early to begin reading! Stories expose children to words and ideas that they might not otherwise experience. Not only does reading enhance children’s vocabulary, books also teach children to use their imaginations and spark creativity.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life, and each stage of a child’s development comes with new opportunities for exploration and learning about the world around them. Movement and play keep children healthy, build their coordination and strength, and help them learn important social-emotional skills such as communication, processing emotions, and flexible thinking. Play also provides opportunities to develop problem solving and coping skills, along with building confidence to try new things and make mistakes.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life, and caring for yourself helps you care for your child. Infants and toddlers thrive when their world feels loving, safe, and predictable. When parents express their love and respond to their child’s needs, it teaches children that they can count on their parent. Over time, showing love and responding helps children learn to manage their feelings and behavior. As they grow, feeling secure in their relationships gives children the confidence they need to explore, learn, and take on life’s challenges.

All parents want to give their children a strong start in life, and are interested in resources to help support their child’s early development and future success. In 2016, a group of parent and systems leaders, newly established as the Nurturing Parent Power workgroup of the Great Start Collaborative of Kent County, came together to find a way to communicate to parents of young children the most important, actionable information about how to help little ones get a strong start in life.

Equitable access in every aspect of life is a crucial factor in the economic and social prosperity of our communities. Children of color are disproportionately impacted by existing disparities that are a direct result of poverty and racism, putting them at greater risk for reduced quality of life outcomes. These areas include access to housing, employment, education, health care, social supports, community-based resources, safety, transportation, and socioeconomic conditions.

Working to empower and strengthen families with young children, the Michigan League for Public Policy is a nonpartisan policy institute dedicated to economic opportunity for all. With all of the League’s work done through a racial and equity lens, it is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way, and analyzes the impact of state and federal budgets and policies on residents with low incomes.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce exists to provide its members with the confidence, connections, credibility and resources necessary to expand their reach, and supports efforts to establish a thriving workforce for a thriving community. Young children are the workforce of tomorrow, and early childhood care and education is where the greatest impact can be made for the best return on investment. High-quality childcare supports working parents and ensures that young children have the chance to enter kindergarten ready to learn.