Changes in our basic attitudes don’t happen very often, but when they do, they can hit like a ton of bricks.
Take the realization that young children learn quickest and best ‒ by far ‒ from birth to around age 5. That has led to the creation of pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs all over the country, some private and some publicly funded.
That, in turn, has led to big increases in funding for public early childhood programs, especially here in Michigan, which now leads the nation in increasing public support for our Great Start Readiness Program, which is aimed at poor and vulnerable four-year-olds.
Now comes a global summit on the well-being of children. to be held at Central Michigan University June 3-5. The “Early Childhood: Shifting Mindsets” gathering will bring together experts from across Michigan, the United States and international organizations to “examine critical issues, exchange ideas, build bridges, and shape solutions to improve outcomes for children and families.”
Up for discussion are the science of infant development; how scientific research is affecting early systems of child care, education and support; and key policy issues, including how Michigan is developing policy through public, private, philanthropic and community-based strategies.
The two and a half-day summit is being designed and hosted by students, faculty and staff at CMU’s College of Education and Human Services in Mt. Pleasant.
“We see CMU as a catalyst to bring diverse groups together and formulate an action plan,” says Dale Pehrsson, dean of the college.
The opening session June 3 will be keynoted by Dr. Joshua Sparrow, director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Sparrow will also take part in an opening panel: “Change the Questions, Change the World: Childhood Today & Propositions for Tomorrow.” His fellow panelists will include Eileen Graf, director of research at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, and Joelle-Jude Fontaine, program officer at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
Graf has won considerable notice for her “Thirty Million Words Initiative,” which encourages parents to talk to their children in a way that helps build their vocabularies, brains and futures.
Michigan policy shapers will come together there on June 5 in a panel to discuss key policy issues and the way Michigan’s public, private and philanthropic organizations have responded.
Included among them will be Susan Broman, head of the Office of Head Start in the Michigan Department of Education; Matt Gillard, CEO of Michigan’s Children; Traverse City’s Doug Luciani, co-chair of the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan; and Peter Pratt, president of Public Sector Consultants. I’ll be moderating a similar panel later that morning.
As Dean Pehrsson put it: “The forum will promote sustainable partnerships to solve complex issues along the shifting landscape that’s challenging Michigan’s children and families, including access to high-quality early learning, the health and well-being of children under five, family stress and poverty in Michigan.”
Although developing early childhood policy has been under intense discussion in the research community for decades and in Lansing for the past 10 years, the CMU gathering is the first I know of to consider the entire spectrum of early childhood issues in an on-campus environment open to the public.
Registration fee is $300, with an “Early Bird” rate of $230 until May 1. The complete summit agenda and slate of speakers is available here.
I encourage anybody to sign up who has an interest in learning how childhood policy and programs have a direct effect on our state’s future prosperity – especially if you think you might get involved.
The summit should be a fascinating experience.