Between conception and age three, the brain goes through impressive changes. We know that in the first three years, a child’s brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood. This surplus of synapses is gradually eliminated throughout childhood. Environmental factors impact this phase of brain development, and play and interaction with children become crucial influencers. A child’s experiences not only determine what information enters her brain, but also influence how her brain processes information. Repeated exposure to early literacy and math activities, such as reading books, singing songs, and counting can impact a child’s vocabulary development and strengthen memory.
Knowing this, we began “Plant the Seed of Learning” through a partnership with Ephrata Community Hospital in order to educate families about brain development and developmental milestones. The classes that began with 10 participants, now welcome 50 families at times. Through feedback from families, we have added sessions containing information about science, writing, infant massage, and writing development. We now offer sessions at five locations and have a forged a new partnership with Women and Babies hospital- Lancaster General/Penn Medicine. Through partnerships with school districts, early learning centers, and community stakeholders across Lancaster County, we have been fortunate to offer five sessions a year through our Plant the Seed of Learning classes for ages birth to 2, and three sessions a year during our Grow the Seed of Learning classes for ages 2 to 4.
Caregivers come to the sessions to learn about important brain development and walk away with a bag of materials to reinforce the information through play with their child. Session are conducted by local school district and hospital professionals. Families rotate through a series of stations that encourage play and interaction with their children. At the end of the evening attendees can be found on the ground interacting with each other, while entertaining their children with developmentally appropriate toys.
This would not be possible without support through the Lancaster United Way and the incredible collective impact taking place across the county. As a PTSL group, we have been able to collaborate with each other, rather than working in isolated silos to address the importance of early learning. The result of this has been very promising. Our data has indicated that 77% of students that attended PTSL were proficient on kindergarten benchmark screeners. 94% of families have shown a behavior change with marked differences in purposeful play and increased reading with their child. This data is collected through surveys and analyzed with the support of Franklin and Marshall College. This year we hope to reach at least 200 families across the county; as of January, we were at 105 families. Our growth is only realized because of our partnerships. We are fortunate to have a Family and Community Outreach facilitator that works with districts across the county. Additional playgroups in park settings and social media outreach have also increased awareness about the benefits of parent-child interactions. Parents and caregivers are the most important influence in a child’s life, but the community should wrap their arms around this cradle to workforce initiative. There is more work to be done and we look forward to unveiling a lot of exciting opportunities for families and educators through the PTSL platform.