PINEDALE – Human brains grow rapidly during the first years of development.
“Ninety percent of our brain growth happens before kindergarten,” said Tamara Currah, Sublette County School District No. 1 early childhood liaison. “At birth, the average baby’s brain is about a quarter the size of an adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size the first year and it keeps growing to about 80 percent of adult size by age 3 and 90 percent – nearly fully grown – by age 5.”
Neurons are busy firing away to create new pathways in a young child’s brain, explained Jennifer Zook, regional facilitator for the Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative through the University of Wyoming.
The formative learning years for children actually take place between birth and age 5, Zook added. Creating positive experiences for young children allow more pathways to develop in their brains, Zook said.
Nurturing this growth involves quality child care – at home, at preschool or an early childhood education program.
“It’s important that people recognize the fact that early childhood education is a foundation for success in the future,” said Teresa Sandner, executive director at Pinedale Preschool. “Early childhood programs are vital for development and give children a good foothold in their future education.”
Early childhood education teaches young people the basic life skills they need to prosper in society, stated Allison Bolgiano, executive director at the Children’s Discovery Center.
“There are so many wonderful benefits at preschools,” she added. “Children learn socially and emotionally, get into the routine of school and prepare for kindergarten.”
The National Association for the Education of Young Children set aside the Week of the Young Child in April starting in 1971.
This year marks the event’s 50th anniversary, and the Pinedale Town Council passed a proclamation in March designating April 10-16 as Week of the Young Child in the community.
Collaborating to make a difference
Communities like Sublette County are catching on to the importance of providing opportunities for the youngest members of society and recognizing the crucial work put in by early childhood educators.
The idea for the proclamation in Pinedale came from the early childhood advisory team, consisting of Currah, Zook and representatives from preschools, the elementary school and Public Health.
The advisory team is an example of growing teamwork between programs, said Currah.
“It’s great to see everyone working together,” she added. “Each program’s goal is the same – they want what’s best for young children. I love working with the preschool teachers and visiting them because we have really good educators out there.”
Becky Gregory, Sublette County development director at the Children’s Learning Center, said the Week of the Young Child is a great opportunity for educators to come together and recognize their successes.
“Everybody working in early childhood education is valuable,” Gregory stated. “Children are our future and investing in them is so important.”
Pinedale is blessed with programs that cater to the needs of all parents, Currah said. Currah’s program, the Lil’ Wranglers, offers interactive classes taught by Jenna Mergl and Julieta Belmont for children and their parents. The courses range from Spanish and English immersion to yoga.
The Redstone Early Active Learning Center, owned and directed by Julie Belton, offer extended hours to accommodate working parents with shifts outside traditional hours.
“Our providers – Karina, Jackie, Melissa and Gabby – are always willing to take on a challenge and go above and beyond,” Belton said. “They are here at 5:45 in the morning or on weekends.”
The Week of the Young Child is a chance to bring together and highlight young families and their children, Belton added.
The words “passion” and “amazing” popped up in conversations with directors about their educators.
“I am truly lucky to work with a group of educators that are passionate about young people and shaping their lives,” said Amy Calhoun, director at the Sublette BOCES Early Education Program. “The Week of the Young Child is a time to celebrate what we do everyday – what we’ve worked for our whole lives.”
“None of us are in it for the pay,” said Belton. “We all have a passion for young children.”
“Early childhood educators are amazing people,” said Bolgiano. “It definitely takes the right person – someone with patience, love and compassion.”
Higher education is becoming a requirement for early childhood educators in a changing world.
“Every single childcare center has great educators,” said Sandner. “All the teachers have a degree or are working on their degree.”
During the Week of the Young Child, each program will showcase student projects and provide information at the Pinedale Aquatic Center. The Children’s Learning Center worked with local artist Hayley Ryckman to create stained glass artwork that will be displayed at Rocky Mountain Bank and Bank of the West.