United Way of Dane County’s Born Learning initiative started in 2007, when we convened a group of community leaders to review the school readiness of children entering kindergarten in Dane County. When this group first looked at the data they found that 42% of our young children were entering kindergarten without the skills they needed to succeed in school. The group examined how poverty plays a critical role in early childhood development. They considered, for example, how a child growing up in poverty has about 800 to 1,000 words of vocabulary upon entering kindergarten, whereas a child from a literacy-rich household has a vocabulary of 8,000 to 10,000 words. A child needs a broad vocabulary as a backstop to the process of learning to read and write: How can you recognize a word you do not know? For too many children in Madison and Dane County, this is a major challenge: 27,914 of Dane County children are poor; that is 11% of Dane County children and 28% of Madison children.

After nine months of reviewing research and data, and talking with community experts, United Way’s Born Learning Delegation released a Mobilization Plan and committed to increasing the number of children who are fully prepared for kindergarten from 59% to 75% by 2013. We selected four strategies to pursue to meet that goal:

  • All children are screened for developmental delays through medical providers, professionals or community-based programs.
  • All children have access to high quality early childhood experiences that encourage positive development.
  • All caregivers have access to resources that help them become successful as their children’s first teachers.
  • The Dane County community is aware of the link between high quality early childhood experience and school readiness.

Our focus on helping parents and other primary caregivers of young children learn how to nurture their young children’s development is because parents have the greatest opportunity to influence their child’s development. We have launched all of these strategies through collaborative partnerships and received tremendous community support.

Parent/Child Home Program is a strong evidence-based program which focuses on the parent and child interaction, child behavior and language development. The program targets low income families with children 2 years of age. For 2 years, a home visitor visits a family twice a week. Each week the child receives a new, developmentally appropriate book or toy to keep. The home visitor shows the parent how to interact with their child using that book or toy. The second visit of the week revisits to reinforce use of the book or toy and insure its being used. This model is repeated for the two years. Center for Families and Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin are our two key partners in this exciting work.

To learn more about United Way’s additional early childhood strategies visit our Born Learning webpage.