Week of the Young Child brings fun, awareness

Today is the kick off for the annual Week of the Young Child here in La Plata County, and across the U.S. This is a time to celebrate young children and recognize the early childhood programs and services that help meet the needs of kids here.

It is also a time to learn more about why the early years in a childís life are so critical to the future.

All young children need and deserve high quality early learning experiences that will prepare them for life; good nutrition and health care to grow their bodies and minds; and supportive communities to ensure in the well-being of all children and families.

Many studies show that children ages 0 to 4 develop 50 percent of their leaning styles, preferences and attitudes; from ages 4 to 8, they develop another 30 percent. Thatís 80 percent by age 8! The importance of favorable conditions during these years can hardly be overemphasized.

According to the Kidís Count Report by the Colorado Childrenís Campaign in 2011, children in La Plata County experience more risks to their health than in other areas of our state. Mothers smoke more, fewer kids are covered by health insurance, more live in poverty, obesity continues to be prevalent and more kids are being observed for social and emotional issues. Programs such as the La Plata County Department of Human Services, Tri-County Head Start, San Juan Basin Health Department, San Juan Kids and San Juan Board of Cooperative Services identify some of these kids and are able to provide early intervention services. Early detection can make positive differences.

The child care situation continues to face challenges, especially in the lack of services for infant and toddler care. Here is a critical area where federal, state and local governments, communities, parents and private businesses can share in the responsibility of providing more safe, quality-driven care for our children so parents can work.

Existing organizations are to be applauded for their work with young children and their families are: Southwest District of the Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children, Tri-County Head Start Programs, La Plata County Early Childhood Council, Early Childhood Professional Training Project, Colorado Preschool Project, La Plata County Department of Human Services, the staff members at the many child care centers and family care homes here, libraries, Family Center of Durango, Southwest Community College and those previously mentioned.

Children are our future! There are many ways to celebrate this special week. Attend some of the planned activities with your children or others. Read a book to kids at a child care center. Donate time and/or money to an early care organization you like. Reach out and thank parents, teachers and all adults who help young children get a great start. Check out the display window at Mariaís Bookshop, the banner downtown and the childrenís art show at the Durango Public Library.

Become more knowledgeable about why the early years are so important to our society, and become an advocate for policies that promote access to quality early childhood programs for all children and their families.

Above all, spend some time with a child. Explore the wonder and innocence still so available to them. Appreciate the joy they bring to our community. See you Saturday at the Kidís Fair!

Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.