Building a business
Fundraising tip: Quote A Path Appears
The next time you need to raise funds for an early childhood program or give a speech in a community setting, consider quoting from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf 2014). They provide a cogent and enthusiastic rationale for directing more dollars to the earliest years of life.
The book’s title comes from a Chinese essayist: “Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing—but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.” In short, problems like poverty, disease, and violence often seem insurmountable, but a few remarkable individuals have made inroads into alleviating them.
Early in the book (pages 65-66), the authors state two lessons learned from programs they studied all over the world: “First, it is critical to intervene early in life, in the critical window when the brain is developing and the foundations for adult life are being laid.… James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, says that our society would be better off taking sums we invest in high school and university and redeploying them to help struggling kids in the first five years of life.”
“Second, children’s programs are most successful when they leverage the most important—and difficult—job in the world, parenting. Give parents the tools to nurture their child in infancy and the result will be a more self-confident and resilient individual for decades to come. It’s far less expensive to coach parents to support their children than to maintain prisons years later.”
Granted, the programs described and the research cited are nothing new to early childhood professionals. What might win over prospective funders and community leaders, however, is the fresh slant given by this husband-wife journalist team, whose previous book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009), ranked No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. They argue for funding the programs that really make a difference, as shown by rigorous evaluations (including randomized trials) made more possible by new technology. This approach fits with an increasing emphasis by funders and agencies on evidence-based results.
The authors do not advocate abandoning support for high school and college programs, but rather they encourage more donors to endow preschool teaching positions as well as college professorships, for example, and to fund nursery schools as well as concert halls. In addition, the authors counsel against starting new public charitable organizations. “Today there are simply too many charities, most of them tiny, inefficient, and inconsequential,” they say. “The last thing the world needs, we believe, is one more aid group on top of the 1.4 million already operating in America.”
In the concluding chapter, the authors offer “six steps you can take in the next six minutes.” Second on the list is “Consider supporting an early childhood program.” Good advice for a prospective donor and for anyone wanting to help improve the world.
Advocacy: More and better preschool
Nearly two-thirds of Texas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool, according to the 2015 Kids Count Data Book, released in July by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
If national trends hold true for Texas, the children who don’t attend preschool are often from low-income families and have parents who dropped out of school or have only a high school diploma.
Many of the absent children undoubtedly receive loving care from their parents, nannies, or in-home adult caregivers. They may participate in play groups and enrichment activities such as museum outings and gymnastic lessons. Too many, however, are left with siblings or neighbors, sit passively in front of a TV most of the day, or in some cases accompany a parent to work.
These latter informal arrangements expose young children to health and safety risks, inconsistent discipline, and poor mental stimulation. Consequently, when these children enter kindergarten, they lag behind others in language, cognitive, and social skills, and they tend stay behind throughout their school years. They may never have been screened for vision and hearing problems, have nutritional deficits (from poor diets and little exercise), and lack immunizations.
By contrast, research has shown that high quality pre-K programs, especially for low-income families, can improve children’s academic and behavioral skills so they come to kindergarten better able to learn. The fact that 60 percent of preschoolers in Texas are left out poses challenges for families, schools, and communities.
Early childhood educators can help address the challenge in several ways, such as the following:
advocating for job training and literacy programs in the community, so families can rise out of poverty and expand opportunity for their children,
expanding outreach to inform low-income families about preschool opportunities,
supporting teacher training programs because well-trained teachers are the most important component in quality care,
improving staff-child ratios because sufficient staff can supervise children better, provide more meaningful learning activities, and engage in greater and more immediate personal contact,
hiring a diverse staff to bring different language and cultural experiences that can enhance understanding and tolerance, and
encouraging parents to raise their expectations so children will seek higher education and improve their future career and life.
For more information, see the following websites:
Annie E. Casey Foundation. 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book. Available at www.aecf.org/m/databook/aecf-2015kidscountdatabook-2015-em.pdf.
Center for Public Policy Priorities. 2015 State of Texas Children. Available at http://forabettertexas.org/images/KC_2015_SOTCreport_web.pdf.
Child Trends Databank. 2015. “Preschool and prekindergarten.” Available at www.childtrends.org/?indicators=preschool-and-prekindergarten.
Cook, Lindsey. Jan. 28, 2015. “U.S. Education: Still Separate and Unequal,” U.S. News. Available at www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal.
Gosa, Travis. March 28, 2014. “Fear of Black Pre-Schoolers: Halting the Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline,” BSN Black Star News. Available at www.blackstarnews.com/us-politics/justice/fear-of-black-pre-schoolers-halting-the-preschool-to-prison-pipeline.html.
Little Free Library: Start one?
As early childhood educators know, reading to babies and preschoolers is essential for school readiness. Unfortunately, some parents can’t afford books in their homes, or they use television and computers to occupy their children.
Ideally preschool teachers read to children regularly and educate parents about the importance of reading and talking with children. In addition, children use books on their own in the literacy center and families may borrow books to take home.
Now you have an opportunity to expand the availability of books to your neighborhood and community—the Little Free Library.
Your community may already have one or several of these libraries. They can easily be mistaken for birdhouses or mailboxes along a sidewalk or hiking trail. The little box perched on a pillar contains books that people have donated and that passers-by can take home and return. It operates on the honor system, with no late fees or penalties.
The Little Free Library was started in 2009 by Tod Bol of Hudson, Wis. He took his inspiration from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who founded nearly 1,700 public community libraries in the United States as well as 800 more in other English-speaking countries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bol came up with a mini version that has grown into a nonprofit organization with more than 25,000 little libraries in all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
To learn how to start a Little Free Library at your program or in the neighborhood, refer to the website, http://littlefreelibrary.org/getinvolved/.
The basic steps:
1. Identify a location where you can legally and safely erect the library.
2. Identify a steward, a person who regularly checks the books and structure.
3. Build a library box or order one from the online catalog on the website. You’ll need materials and someone to build the little structure and set it in the ground. Total cost may range from $50 to $150.
4. Ask friends, families, and others to donate a dozen or so books.
5. Register online, if you like, to receive a steward’s packet, charter number and sign, and mention on the Little Free Library online world map.
The Little Free Library organization also suggests that you build support using social media, radio and TV, and neighbors and friends. A grand opening can introduce the library to the neighborhood and also be a lot of fun for children and families.
Don’t underestimate your influence: A lesson
It’s Monday morning, and Ms. Canales comes in with a dozen recorder flutes.
“Look what I found at a garage sale,” she announces to the other teachers. “I bought them to use in the music center.”
“Can you play a recorder yourself?” asks one teacher.
“No, but I think I can learn along with the children,” says Ms. Canales.
“What makes you think it’s worth the effort?” asks another teacher.
“My experience,” says Ms. Canales confidently. Seeing their doubtful expressions, she adds, “Let me tell you what happened to me a couple of years ago. Are you interested?”
“Sure,” the other teachers say.
“One Saturday afternoon I was taking a walk along the road that leads through the wooded area at the edge of town. As I walked, I picked up litter—you know, soda cans, water bottles, chip bags, stuff like that. I don’t like seeing trash strewn along the road, and I got into the habit of picking it up, something I can easily do as I walk along.
“Well, at the place where the road curves, I came upon a dead deer—bloated belly, flies buzzing around. Peeyooo! It smelled. I veered around it and went on walking and putting litter in my plastic bag.
“A couple of minutes later, a red pickup passed me from behind and then turned around and came back. The man behind the wheel stopped his truck beside me. He leaned out the window and said, ‘I saw you picking up trash, so I decided I could do something about that dead deer.’ He drove back and threw the deer in the back of his truck. I just stood there, amazed.”
The room grows silent. Ms. Canales taps a recorder in her palm. “The point is not the dead deer. It’s that we never know the impact we can have on someone else. Especially as teachers, we may say or do something that can influence a child’s whole life.”