Ninety percent of a child's brain develops by age 5. That's why it's so important to make sure that those caring for young children - including parents, family and friends - have the support they need to provide the positive nurturing experiences that promote learning.
"About 65% of children in rural areas are cared for by family, friends and neighbors," also known as Kith & Kin or Friend, Family & Neighbor Care; said, Francine Loper, Program Specialist for the Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC). "Generally these care takers are the most loving and nurturing people, like a grandparent or a friend that we trust with our children. We do not tell them how to raise their children. We help to build their confidence and provide them with an opportunity to grow." In partnership with First Things First, ASCC and the Child Care Development Fund provide training for Kith & Kin and Friend, Family & Neighbor Care in the Coconino and Navajo Nation region.
Because critical social and behavioral skills, such as motivation, self-discipline, focus, and self-esteem, begin to take root from birth to age 5, it's crucial that families and caregivers have the tools they need to support children with stable, nurturing environments in their earliest years.
"We choose family or friends because they come with that love and support already, so what we do is provide additional tools." said Anissa Dolan-Bais, ASCC Program Assistant. Some of those tools include educating caregivers about early childhood development, language, literacy, proper nutrition, home safety and getting them certified in CPR and First Aid.
For Navajo Nation, helping caregivers introduce the Navajo language to children at a young age is very important. "If the caregiver speaks Navajo, we encourage them to teach the kids basic words like colors, shapes and numbers," said Selena Curley with the Navajo Nation Child Care Development Fund.
When choosing a friend, family or neighbor as a child care provider, remember the following tips:
Clean, safe environment - Your child must be safe. Clean and age-appropriate toys or equipment is usually a good sign.
Small groups of children - Make sure your child gets some one-on-one attention every day.
Caregivers who want to provide a learning environment - Caregivers should be eager to learn about child development and share their learning with you.
If you feel your child care provider would be interested in participating in the program, feel free to introduce them to the Friend, Family & Neighbor Care or Kith & Kin program. "They gain a positive sense of empowerment upon completion of our sessions to do a better job as a child care provider," Loper said.
For the Navajo Nation region, contact the Navajo Nation Child Care Development Fund for the Friend, Family & Neighbor Care program at 928-871-6629. In the Coconino region contact the Arizona Kith & Kin Project provided by the Association for Supportive Child Care at 928-714-1716.
When we make sure that kids have positive relationships with adults at home, in their child care setting and in our communities, we are helping them build a strong foundation for learning.