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Guest opinion: Early childhood development matters to Utah leaders

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As a proud grandfather of 15 beautiful grandchildren, I find joy in life’s little milestones: Their first steps, the sound of their first words and the way their precious faces light up when they learn something new. I know grandparents across Utah feel the same way. We all want what’s best for our grandchildren.

Supporting my own grandchildren’s future happiness and success motivates much of my work as president of the Utah Senate. I often ask myself what more can we do, as a state, to set all children up for success.  

Research shows 90% of a child’s brain will develop before they enter kindergarten. That’s why it’s so important to support not only children but the entire family during these formative years. State leaders and local nonprofits are working together to bring attention to this important topic and continue to improve Utah’s early childhood development. Combining our voices and efforts will maximize our impact as we work to help families succeed.

I am proud to say Utah is full of organizations and individuals working together to support families with young children, and many of them will be joining us at the Capitol for Early Childhood Day on the Hill on March 2. Some work directly with children, some work with caregivers and others work at the policy level to remove barriers to young children’s success and create programs promoting optimal early childhood development.    

I personally am a strong supporter of the early childhood education program UPSTART. It was created in 2009 through a partnership between the Utah Legislature and the nonprofit Waterford.org. This at-home, early learning program engages both children and parents in learning. Through the Waterford UPSTART program, parents get a personal coach along with tips and tools to help their children grow socially and academically. The program was initially designed to help low-income families, children who are not native English speakers and children in many rural areas of our state, where brick-and-mortar classes traditionally haven’t worked. After years of rigorous research and field testing, we know UPSTART has measurable long-term academic impacts. Participating children also see social and emotional gains before entering school.

After compelling positive outcomes, the state expanded the UPSTART program to reach even more children. Whether or not children attend preschool, they can do the program at home with their parents for an academic boost. I am proud to say other states have seen the success of this Utah-made program and are now using it to improve their early childhood education and development gaps. 

While the statistical results are impressive, seeing my 4-year-old grandson benefit from the UPSTART program has had the biggest impact on me. While laying a foundation for success in reading, science and math, his self-esteem blossomed. Watching that process and knowing he was ready for school gives me a great deal of comfort, and I am so proud he is doing so well.

Whether we are 4 or 40, we all do better when we are confident and well prepared. I invite parents to come by the Utah Statehouse for Early Childhood Day on the Hill on March 2. Speak with participating organizations and your local legislators and let us know why you believe optimal early childhood development matters. While there’s no handbook for parenting, organizations in our state can provide tools and techniques to help parents and children succeed. They can help parents improve early childhood outcomes, and make raising confident, kindergarten-ready kids a little easier.  

As legislators, most of us are parents and grandparents and therefore have a vested interest in early childhood development in our state. We’ll continue working to create programs promoting success. Good beginnings lead to good futures, and the future of our children is the future of our state and nation.

J. Stuart Adams is president of the Utah Senate.