Early childhood development and learning

Project Discovery: Science and Technology for the Future

The first years of a child’s life are critical to his or her development and a sacred trust of the community. In recent years, contemporary science has given us inspiring and motivating information regarding the degree to which early brain development can be optimized by caregivers who are supported by current research and best practices in parenting and early education. Parents are the child’s first teachers. Gone are the days when we left “teaching” to the experts in the schools. Now, as early as the first hours after birth, and clearly through the toddler and pre-school years, every child is eagerly available and excited to learn at a level that most of us did not expect possible, or consider developmentally appropriate. We believe that an intriguing blend of increasing need and increasing resources, intellectual and financial, has created a very fertile environment for a coming together of parents, caregivers, researchers, and social service agencies in the service of our young children.

Choices made today in the lives of these young people will most definitely affect outcomes later as they develop into their youth and early adulthood. Literally, at a cellular level, decisions about nutrition, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco have far-reaching and often life long effects. But the discussion goes beyond cellular development and the optimal production of synapses in the first years. Early childhood development also depends greatly on mothers and fathers well educated and supported in the skills of parenting; high quality, professionally trained and licensed childcare and pre-school providers who are respected, well paid, and working within healthy learning environments; supported and resourced family, friend and neighbor (informal) caregivers; and, a collaborative community whose services are well connected to the needs of developing families.

The Kirlin Charitable Foundation is committed to researching, developing, and working within models of change that address problems at their source, emphasizing preventive measures over remedial. We want to invest in systems of prevention in order to avoid costly systems of care that must address the far too many needs of young people that have fallen between the cracks. And we believe in taking an entrepreneurial approach to our investments, accepting the risks involved in new, imaginative, and not always conventional ventures. We want to ensure that a “readiness to learn” understanding and environment is in place from day one.
Raising children is certainly one of the most wonderful, demanding, challenging, and emotional sets of experiences we are likely to have in our lives. Whether as parents, family, caregivers, or school teachers, we can all benefit from a team approach to success. Being able to choose from a helpful bank of resources in the community is an opportunity we want to help make extensively available so we can be continually improving our skills.

In the final analysis, however, we return again to the state of the heart, ours and our children’s. We would like to quote from the words and wisdom of one of our grantees, Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. Dr. Gottman’s words address parents directly, but we believe they pertain equally to all caregivers whose lives surround and are touched by children:
“The key to successful parenting is not found in complex theories, elaborate family rules, or convoluted formulas for behavior. It is based on your deepest feelings of love and affection for your child, and is demonstrated simply through empathy and understanding. Good parenting begins in your heart, and then continues on a moment-to-moment basis by engaging your children when feelings run high, when they are sad, angry, or scared. The heart of parenting is being there in a particular way when it really counts.”

Photo ©Susie Fitzhugh