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Early Learning Program Helps Low-Income Kids, Caregivers Succeed

PHOTO: The YMCA Early Learning Readiness Program for Informal Family, Friend, and Neighbor Caregivers teaches those who watch young children how to provide better learning opportunities for those in their care. Photo courtesy YMCA of the USA.
PHOTO: The YMCA Early Learning Readiness Program for Informal Family, Friend, and Neighbor Caregivers teaches those who watch young children how to provide better learning opportunities for those in their care. Photo courtesy YMCA of the USA.
January 22, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the YMCA is reaching out to that village through a pilot program aimed at helping neighbors, relatives and babysitters teach young children the skills they need for school.

For many working families, said Rebecca Kelley, national director for the Achievement Gap Initiative of the YMCA of the USA, informal caregivers are the most common form of child care. She said this program gives them the tools they need to help preschoolers in their care succeed.

"This is really more of a preparation gap," she said, "because we find that many low-income youth come into kindergarten with some issues related to pre-literacy skills and relationship-building, and this is really important."

The pilot program is in 43 sites nationwide, with a focus on underserved communities, including at the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that expanding access to preschool programs in low-income communities is among his top priorities.

Initial results have shown promising gains for kids in the program on several measures of kindergarten readiness, but Kelley said the benefits of a program such as this aren't limited to the children.

"We have many newcomer families who are part of this," she said, "and the caregivers have reported that the language skills that are being developed not only help the child prepare for kindergarten but it helped them, and it increased their confidence and a willingness for them to learn."

It's estimated that lower-income children enter kindergarten 12 to 18 months behind the average child, particularly in areas where access to federally supported preschool programs such as Head Start is limited.

More information on the program is online at ymca.net.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO