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This week, Idahoans across the state will be honoring young children and those who work with, and care for our children during Week of the Young Child (WOYC). WOYC is an annual, nationwide celebration that focuses public attention on the needs of young children and their families while recognizing the importance of the programs and services that meet those needs.

Early childhood programs serve as an economic backbone of communities and states across the country and across the Great State of Idaho. In the best of times, early childhood programs are vital in serving the needs of hard-working families and young children. Our health care workers, state and local governments, businesses and other industries rely on child care as it plays an integral role in sustaining Idaho’s economic growth and productivity. The challenges we are facing today, in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic, has driven home the importance of child care and raised awareness about the impact these programs have on our society. Never before has child care been as essential as it is today.

In addition to the impact these programs have on our working families, businesses and our economy, high-quality early childhood programs prepare our children to learn, grow, and succeed. Every child deserves equal opportunity in a quality early childhood education environment that supports their family’s unique needs. Young children get one chance at learning the fundamentals that will prepare them for success and achieve their full potential. To build a strong foundation, our children require stable, caring, interactive relationships and positive experiences with adults. 

There’s no doubt, parents are a child’s first and most influential caregiver, but they also benefit from close relationships and positive interactions with other caregivers. Parental support and family engagement are instrumental to a child’s well-being and early development. We must provide all families with the tools and knowledge they need to make the best choices for their children, in an effort to encourage their child’s path towards a bright future. High-quality early childhood programs serve as partners with families and can provide links to health and early learning resources.

In Idaho, studies show nearly two-thirds of parents with children under five are in the workforce and need safe, trustworthy and affordable child care. Access to high-quality, affordable child care allows parents the freedom to work without disruptions to their employment. During this pandemic and the challenges that many are facing, it should be clear that quality child care supports both children and the businesses where their parents work. Child care also allows parents the ability to pursue higher education, skills development or training which furthers a family’s financial stability. 

The value that early childhood educators have on young children’s lives and the families they support cannot be overstated. This essential workforce is typically undervalued and underpaid, yet they provide priceless support for hard-working parents and families. Their role as loving caregivers, experienced educators, and a treasured family support is something that we should all recognize.

In Idaho so far, 27 cities, including the City of Rexburg and four school districts have issued proclamations to celebrate Week of the Young Child. That’s because these community leaders understand the critical importance of ensuring access to quality early learning. They understand that the infrastructure of our early childhood education is just as important as the roads we drive on every day, the markets where we sell our goods, and the communication systems we use to move our state forward.

As we all struggle to cope with the challenges of the Coronavirus Pandemic, let’s take a moment to recognize the importance of early childhood education and the educators and caregivers who ensure that our youngest children get all the opportunities they deserve.

Join with us, April 11-17 as we celebrate early childhood education in Idaho and recognize the early childhood educators who too often don’t receive the recognition they deserve.

Beth Oppenheimer is the executive director of  Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. She can be reached at boppenheimer@idahoaeyc.org.