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Early learning can help

A recent headline naming Medford among the worst cities in which to raise a family has caused a great deal of controversy and discussion. Many factors landed Medford on that list. Some would argue the characterization is unfair (we don’t have high rates of violent crime, our graduation rates have greatly improved, the homelessness statistics are improving, etc.) while others would point to some undeniable difficulties within our city.

The article underscored a lack of preschool participation in Medford as one of the factors contributing to the city’s low rating. A recent Mail Tribune article supported that premise by highlighting the challenges the Medford School District faces as significant numbers of children start kindergarten unprepared and exhibiting extreme and concerning behaviors. Preschool and early learning opportunities can make the difference. Research shows kids who attend preschool are:

  • More likely to start kindergarten ready to learn — that is, able to follow direction, interact with peers, and function in a learning environment.
  • More likely to stay in school year after year.
  • Because they stay in school, more likely to graduate.

Children who graduate are also less likely to engage in criminal activity and more likely to achieve a higher level of health. On the flip side, kids who begin formal schooling without crucial skills frequently fall behind and struggle to catch up. Once a child drops out, the likelihood of their turning to crime increases along with their health risks.

In an ideal world, all kids would have access to preschool. When we give children the chance to engage in healthy, brain-building activities before the age of 6, while encouraging social-emotional development, we ultimately put them on the path to become healthier, more successful adults.

But preschool and child care in Oregon are costly. It’s now more expensive to enroll your toddler in full-time preschool than it is to pay in-state college tuition. Due to the real cost of delivering safe, quality child care, most research ranks Oregon as having some of the most expensive preschool in the country. Hence the reason many public and private organizations are working together to create access to early learning programs. Many of these resources are available at low- or no-cost based on need.

Just a few of the resources available:

  • The Family Nurturing Center offers a child abuse/neglect prevention/ intervention program to families with children up to 5 years old.
  • The Family Connection publishes a calendar of activities including parenting classes, free “Kaleidoscope Play & Learn” classes, family activities, and more, a wide range of opportunities for parents to engage with their children.
  • Southern Oregon Head Start has free preschool services for families at 100 percent of the poverty level or below.
  • 211info is a wealth of information on preschool, childcare, family resources.
  • Southern Oregon Early Learning Services is advocating for early childhood in our region.
  • Kid Time publishes a monthly calendar of drop-in activities that are free with membership and admission.

No matter how you look at it, there are many resources available to Medford families, and many new projects underway that will make our community even more inviting. The new Olsrud Family Community Playground at Bear Creek Park, and Kid Time’s impending move to the Carnegie Building/Alba Park area, are two such projects. Both are backed by the city of Medford as part of an effort to reclaim areas once beloved by children and families that have, in recent years, become havens for less family-friendly activity.

But don’t leave it to the city or dedicated organizations to do all the work. Every one of us can play a role in making our community better. Medford is home to many unsung heroes — nonprofits, schools, churches, neighborhood groups, family and friend networks — that advocate for kids every single day. Some you’ve heard about, many you’ve not. All could certainly use an extra hand or additional resources. There is a direct correlation between children’s success in school and life, and the amount of time caring adults devote to them. The adult who makes that impact could be you. If you have a few hours to spare each week or each month, reach out to an organization and share your skills or time. Your efforts could help bump Medford off that “worst cities” list next year.

Sunny Spicer is executive director of Kid Time Children’s Museum, 106 N. Central Ave. in Medford.

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