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Publish Date: 4/10/2005

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Shelly Slepicka, a teacher of 12- to 18-month-olds at Our Toddler Center, holds Gannon Heisler while reading to Emily Hoffmann, right, and Benjamin Cooper on Monday. The St. Vrain Early Childhood Council will celebrate Week of the Young Child and is asking adults and children to wear hats on Wednesday to public events and meetings as a symbol of adopting our role in supporting children’s opportunities. Times-Call/Hunter McRae

Baby Steps
Week of the Young Child highlights importance of early-childhood programs


LONGMONT — Early-childhood educators wear many hats: They are teachers, caretakers and supporters of parents, and guardians of young children.

On Wednesday, those working in the St. Vrain Valley want people to ask about their hats — the ones on their heads and in the roles they serve.

“Essentially, everyone in the community has a responsibility to provide opportunities for children,” said Pam Edinger, director of special education for the St. Vrain Valley School District and chairwoman of the the St. Vrain Early Childhood Council.

The council will join in celebrating the annual national event “Week of the Young Child” April 10-16, with Hat Day on Wednesday.

Edinger said the event would raise awareness of the needs of young children and their families and recognize the programs and services that meet those needs.

“Our purpose ... is to focus on what an incredible opportunity we have in working with young children,” said Jean Werner, director of the OUR Childcare Center, “and to put focus on what potential these young children have.”

The St. Vrain Early Childhood Council began meeting monthly about five years ago, Edinger said, as a collaborative effort among local agencies to improve early-childhood care, support and education for children through the age of 5.

“We’re all in early-childhood (agencies), and we had no idea the complexity of the services available. We needed to have a deeper understanding of those,” Edinger said. “It’s a way for us to network with each other informally and formally. We are able to connect and make these services more accessible to families.”

This week, preschools, child-care centers and licensed in-home day-care centers in the St. Vrain Valley will have activities focused on hats: making hats, reading books about hats and playing with hats, Werner said.

“It would be a fun thing to do for the kids,” Edinger said.

Also, those in the early-childhood field will wear hats this Wednesday as a way to raise awareness about Week of the Young Child.

Lesley Cunningham, a team leader for Child Adolescence Family Service for Mental Health Center in Longmont, said the public can get involved in the lives of young children, even if they don’t know one personally.

The public can volunteer or donate money, as well as vote for legislation that funds early-childhood services and programs.

Cunningham said cutbacks in funding are short-term financial solutions with long-term consequences.

“There seems to be only a focus on reactive, crisis-oriented programming,” she said. “This is not helping children. We’re going to have to pay for it one way or the other, but with preventive and early-intervention programs that address problems early on, (a child’s) quality of life is more guaranteed.”

Cunningham said mentoring a young child is one small way to better the community.

“It gives children a different perspective,” she said. “It also gives them a chance to bond with an adult, and if something is imprinted on their social psyche, it allows them to have a broader view on how to live.”

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at msidwell@times-call.com.

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