When I first talked to Yvette Hwee on the phone about her wonderful online preschool startup, Playful Bee, I was captivated by her passion. She spoke enthusiastically about America's issues regarding preschool and her experiences as a mom of two young girls. I had recently completed my own traditional preschool search in Los Angeles, a process that left me pretty uninspired and depressed. My husband had thought I was going "a bit overboard" by going on 10 preschool tours, but I wanted to make sure I found the best choice out of all the great options I felt I was certain to find. At the end of my lengthy search, I was left with one that looked great, a couple of options that looked OK, and many that I thought were honestly sub par. The cost of preschool also came as a shock as well. I had not anticipated the huge chunk of change we would have to find each month to pay for preschool.
Some might suggest that I am simply a tough sale. That my master's degree in education had created unrealistic expectations. However, my requirements were not crazy, just things that any parent would desire for their child. I simply wanted a loving school that provided a safe place for my daughter to play, learn, and prosper. But, the whole endeavor left me confused and disheartened. I can understand how parents would feel lost. The reality is that the supply of high quality preschools and preschool educators does not meet the needs of our country. Parents are left with a short supply of high quality options at prices that many families cannot afford. Yvette spoke about all of the issues and concerns about preschool I had been mulling over in my head and started discussing with me what we can do as mothers and educators to help bring high quality preschool education to all of our children. I immediately became interested about Playful Bee and wanted to join her cause!
A little bit more about Playful Bee. Playful Bee's mission is to close the education gap in America by delivering affordable, high quality universal preschool. We believe that preschool begins at birth, and want to empower parents with a convenient, easy-to-use resource that will enable them to be the very best first teachers for their child. Playful Bee is a customized curriculum and online learning tool for parents to use to support their 0-5 year olds' development and education. Parents are supported by a team of preschool and Kindergarten teachers and early childhood education experts. The subscription service can be utilized as either an alternative or complement to traditional brick-and-mortar preschools and daycares.
Preschool Around the World
Playful Bee matters for so many reasons. Parents need to start understanding that education begins at birth. Many people assume real learning does not occur until their child is in Kindergarten or first grade. The truth is 80% of a child's brain is developed by age 3. There are wonderful rich years of learning that need to be taken advantage of during a child's babyhood and toddlerhood. Early education is widely undervalued in America. Less than 50% of American children attend preschool. The rest of the developed world already knows the importance of preschool and is well ahead of us in their early education programs. For example, the Norwegian and Swedish governments strongly value early education and want every family to have access to high quality preschool or kindergarten for their children. About 85 percent of all children living in Norway aged 1-5 years old attend preschool. In China, children attend preschool from 1-3 years old and is viewed as an important part of a child's experience, especially in urban centers.
The USA and Preschool
As more people are taking notice of the importance of preschool, the government has stepped up and tried to start programs. Most states don't argue whether universal preschool is important but rather how to fund a quality universal preschool program. Some believe that because funding is already stretched far too thin to service quality K-12 grade school, introducing universal preschool would further plummet an already failing public education system. Even as government tries to start these early learning programs, many American parents are still left without viable options because bureaucracy and red tape are all too often a large part of the process.
The call for more U.S. investment in early childhood education will continue to get louder as the presidential race heats up for the 2016 election season. Education is one of the central components of Hillary Clinton's platform, and she has been particularly focused on early education.. Clinton states "I believe we can start to close the achievement gap by investing in programs that increase children's school readiness and academic preparation while making it easier for parents to balance their responsibilities at work with their responsibilities to their children. We know children's brains develop more rapidly at this time in their lives than at any other and that high quality interventions make a real difference in the outcomes of children from low-income families." Hillary Clinton has continued to touch upon the importance of preschool and quality childcare for every child in America across the country as she campaigns. But the question still remains how will America fund and deliver "universal preschool?" Does the political will and resources exist for the U.S. to offer free universal preschool? If so, at what age would it start? The programs that have been set up under "universal preschool" in a few U.S. cities begin at 4 years old. By this age, most our children's brain connections have already formed. We need options that begin at birth, when brains are making huge leaps in learning.
I am passionate about working at Playful Bee because we are trying to find a real solution to educating our 0-5 year olds. As an educator and mom, I don't want to sit back and wait for our government to decide at what age and how my baby should learn. At Playful Bee, we aim to help close the Achievement Gap by providing an affordable and accessible early education program to all families in America today, not tomorrow or someday. As parents, we are our children's first and most important teachers and stewards of their education. We need to take action and get our kids ready for elementary school. We need to acknowledge that learning and preschool should start at birth. We also need to evaluate and assess what is the best preschool program for our children, whether it's a traditional brick-and-mortar preschool, a local community co-op, or an at home preschool program supported by Playful Bee. The most important part is we as parents educate ourselves about the options and act to get our children ready for school. The stakes are high for our children and for our country's future. Our little ones are depending on us to enrich their brains and foster a lifelong love of learning. So, let's get to learning, discovering, and playing together.