Growing Community: The month of the young child

Welcome to May, The Month of the Young Child. As a community, we’ve celebrated The Month of the Young Child for 31 years. So what were you doing in 1990? Were you a child in the parade? Were you a parent of a young child? Were you working in a child care program? It’s safe to say that quite a lot has changed in those years. What hasn’t changed is the presence of young children in our community.

We continue to shine a light on young children each May because there is a lot to celebrate in the world of early childhood; and there continue to be areas that need our attention. The city of Aspen and many others have invested a great deal of money and time in increasing the quality and affordability of child care as well as the access to child care programs. Funding has gone directly to child care programs to support infant and toddler classrooms for quality improvements and staff development. Funding has also supported families who need help paying for child care. Kids First works in partnership with so many nonprofits, government departments, businesses, networks and individuals to support young children and their families.

Kids First and Aspen Family Connections work together to provide resources to families so there is a continuum of care as children move from child care to the K-12 system, all in partnership with families, at every age.

This year you won’t see a parade in May with 300 children, parents and caregivers. We are planning to bring that back next year. In the meantime, each classroom is having an in-house “Read with Me” experience. The book we are all reading this year is “Tiara’s Hat Parade” for the preschoolers, and “I Love You, Sun, I Love You, Moon” for the infants and toddlers. Classrooms are making hats and holding their own parades. Kids First staff is visiting – outdoors and distanced – each program during drop-off and pick-up times to welcome parents, offer a photo op and share information. It’s so great for us to see familiar and new faces; it feels like forever that we have all been isolated.

Why haven’t we solved all the difficulties with providing high quality, affordable child care? The short answer is that it’s a complex issue. We all want the best for our youngest community members, and we know how much families, employers and the community needs it. Budgets are not bottomless, building and land spaces that meet child care requirements are scarce; early childhood staff are hard to find and keep; and parents cannot be asked to pay the whole cost. There is a need for expanded funding for early childhood education at the state and federal levels. We are seeing that start to change: There is more funding in some of the recovery money than previously as well as funding for voluntary universal pre-k in Colorado in 2023.

The Month of the Young Child is a time for all of us to think more about the role we play in the lives of the young children we know: Our own children, our neighbors, friends’ children, co-workers’ children and more. Early childhood is such a critical developmental time, from brain connections to physical development. A child’s entire body changes dramatically in those first five years.

We’ve also learned from COVID how critical it is to have quality child care choices for families, which has never been more pressing than now. Kids First and Aspen Family Connections have resources for you, and you can reach out to us to find ways that you can partner to make this the best place to raise a child.

Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at shirley.ritter@cityofaspen.com or Katherine at ksand@aspenk12.net.

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