For several years running, usually around the time reenrollment contracts are due, parents have asked me about investing in PS – 8 education. “College is so expensive,” they say, “Shouldn’t we save our resources when our children are younger so that we can afford to send them to the college of their choice?”
My usual answer is that investing in children during their formative, younger years pays dividends down the road. Even still, as the cost of college education continues to rise, I remain firm in my conviction that an investment in the primary years is what best sets students up for success in later life.
When it comes to raising confident and competent children, the importance of investing in a high-quality education when children are young is critical. This makes sense if you think about the rapid pace at which students learn when they are younger. From language development in toddlers to critical thinking in elementary to navigating the social context of middle school, our kids need exceptional school environments to help them navigate what is becoming an increasingly complex world.
Researchers have been looking at this questions for many years now, and there are at least four key reasons to make this investment.
Literacy – Literacy serves as the springboard for education, and students who attend schools that focus on early literacy have an advantage over those who do not. A study run by the American Educational Research Association, investigated the impact of early education by tracking nearly 3,000 students from preschool through their 11th birthday. In short, the research determined that a student who cannot read at grade level by third grade becomes four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than students who are meeting standards.
Brain Development – Human brains grow more during the first five years of life than any other development period, with the first three serving as a mold for the organ’s architecture. Experiences during these formative years determine the brain’s organizational development for the remainder of life. Consequently, these years impact academic abilities, social-emotional skills, and executive functioning.
Young brains are also “plastic” brains. That is, they have the ability to change, or find new neural pathways, much more easily than older brains. The earlier we can nurture and develop those pathways, including an openness to new ones, the more easily brains can adapt to future opportunities.
Natural Explorers – Children in primary school are natural detectives, journalists and mad scientists. They love to explore and take in new material. They are also at the prime season of their life for absorbing information. Schools that use their resources to provide a broad-based, but balanced, curriculum have an advantage over those that do not. For example, early exposure to world languages, the arts, and STEM classes increase intellectual development. Furthermore, a diverse and rich curriculum increases the opportunities our children have to develop the ability to make cross-curricular connections and devise wide-ranging solutions.
Social-Emotional Growth – Academic and social-emotional growth are not mutually exclusive at any point in education, but they are most connected during elementary and middle school. Skills developed through practice, such as self-regulation and social interaction, have positive effects that are evident throughout an entire lifetime. Furthermore, developing a sense of empathy and understanding is critically important at younger ages. This is especially true in today’s world as cooperation and collaboration are rising to the top among skills critical for the workplace.
BCD invests heavily in all of the above. We use a “flooding” model for literacy instruction, staffing each grade in K – 3 with four specialists from our Learning Center for 30 minutes each day. This intensive model lowers our student-teacher ratio and allows our students to receive more personalized instruction than they would get from their homeroom teacher.
We provide a broad-based and balanced curriculum to engage young brains and to expose them to multiple pathways of learning. Preschoolers start world language classes when they are three years-old, elementary and middle schoolers benefit from diverse curriculum taught by subject areas specialists in the Arts, STEM, technology, world languages, PE, and library. And, middle schoolers engage and participate in our Explore program, a series of electives designed to expose them to a rich array of topics and subjects that more closely resembles a college course catalog than middle school.
Finally, we teach social emotional skills through our Responsive Classroom and DDMS curriculum. As Preschool Head Kath Courter likes to say, “Pushing over a block tower at age five is kind of like annoying a colleague at the copier much later in life.” Teaching these skills and creating an emotionally safe and welcoming environment within which to learn them only adds to the education our children receive.
Simply put, investing “early and often” in a PS – 8th grade education is good policy and better practice. Students that receive the benefit of that investment outperform their peers, are better prepared for high school and beyond, and have a stronger and more developed sense of self. In addition, they build on the skills and habits they develop at a young age and are more likely to succeed in a college or university environment when the time comes.