A point on which there is little disagreement in the discussion of school readiness is that a child’s taste for learning is shaped at the earliest stage by parents and the home setting. Provide a stimulating environment, and the family offers a child’s natural curiosity room to grow, laying the foundation for mental and emotional development. We know from a growing stack of studies that exposure to a wide variety of learning experiences in the years before kindergarten is a good predictor of school success.
But what if a parent lacks the know-how to feed the developing intellect or lacks access to programs that can fill the gap? Large numbers of children wind up in kindergarten already at a disadvantage in language, social and other skills compared to their peers who had the benefit of structured early learning programs.
SPARK, a decade-old initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Canton, is proving to be a vital element in bridging the knowledge and resource gaps for parents or grandparents and their toddlers. The program provides families a support system, a team of “parent partners” offering in-home lessons to bring 3- and 4-year-olds up to speed on the skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. No less important, the partners teach parents how to enhance learning at home and connect them with community resources.
SPARK operates in eight counties and serves 100 children in seven school neighborhoods in Akron. For all its success, it is a small program with limited funding to meet the demand. Ohio can’t do better than scale up SPARK for the thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds who need a teacher at home to set them on their way.