Governor Deval Patrick today joined state education officials and community members to launch the "Read, Explore, Learn More!" education series, underscoring the important role of the Commonwealth's early education and care programs and community-based enrichment programs in fostering children's early development. Tuesday's event was held at The Discovery Museums in Acton.
"Access to high-quality early education programs and community-based support gives every child in Massachusetts the very best chance to succeed in the 21st century economy," said Governor Patrick. "Investing in our children at a young age pays huge dividends for them and for our Commonwealth."
The Patrick Administration is taking part in the "Read, Explore, Learn More!" series to promote programs that support healthy brain development and provide a strong foundation for academic success. Community-based educational programs in informal settings are essential supplements to the formal, subsidized early education and care programs that Massachusetts provides free or at low cost to over 50,000 children each year. Governor Patrick proposed an additional $15 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget to allow all infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers currently on the waiting list for child care financial assistance to enroll in high-quality early education and care programs.
"The Patrick Administration's emphasis on developing early literacy skills represents the most important educational trend in recent years," said Secretary of Education Matthew Malone. "By providing the Commonwealth's youngest students with increased access to quality early education opportunities, we are helping to reduce the achievement gap and better prepare children to start school off on the right foot."
Tuesday's event featured "nanoscale' science and engineering activities and was inclusive of children with autism. Future events will include interactive read-alongs, science exploration and discovering animal exhibits. Through donations from WGBH, the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is providing free books and bookbags for children and families who attend the events. Through the state's "Brain Building in Progress" initiative with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, EEC is also providing a "Brain Building is Fun" learning activity guide for parents.
"The Discovery Museum's programs are a model example of how communities can be instrumental in supporting the healthy development of young children," said EEC Commissioner Tom Weber. "Combining an inclusive approach with an intentional focus on science discovery and exploration helps ensure that all of our students achieve at high levels and are prepared for future success."
The "Read, Explore, Learn More!" series coincides with the launch of Autism Awareness month in April, Autism World Awareness day on April 2 and the national Week of the Young Child (April 5-13). Governor Patrick has issued a proclamation declaring April 5-13 "Brain Building in Progress" week in Massachusetts.
The Discovery Museums' Open Door Connections program provides opportunities for children who face a variety of barriers - financial, developmental or cultural - to experience the Museums. "Autism Friendly Afternoons" provide an environment that minimizes overcrowding and supports accessibility of exhibits. A dedicated room is available to welcome families with a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder to orient them to the campus and programs, and provide a quiet space for children needing a break from the stimulation of the museums. These afternoons are free with pre‐registration.
"It's very exciting to have Governor Patrick and Commissioner Weber here and see how Massachusetts recognizes the importance of connecting families with special needs to accessible hands‐on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education," said Lucas Skorczeski, Early Childhood Education and Parent Resources Director at The Discovery Museums.
"Combining high quality, enriching early childhood experiences with exciting activities such as science discovery and exploration is a great way to inspire young children," said JD Chesloff, Chair of the Board of Early Education and Care and a Board member of The Discovery Museums. "The Discovery Museums does this every day in innovative ways, playing an important role in enhancing young children's curiosity, creativity and learning."
The Patrick Administration has advanced high-quality early education and care as an up-front strategy for preventing academic gaps from forming and ensuring students' proficiency by third grade, including community-based educational programs in informal settings. These programs are often uniquely situated to support both children and parents simultaneously by modeling approaches that support children's learning such as facilitating topic-rich conversations after a story reading. State-funded community-based educational programs in informal settings include Coordinated Family and Community Engagement networks, Early Childhood Resource Centers, and a Museums and Libraries partnership.