By Sophia Collas and Maria Snyder
On April 24th the New York Mayor’s office announced what is called the most ambitious effort in U.S. history to design and implement a universal quality educational curriculum for New York City pre-school children, and with it comes promise and responsibility.
A few years ago Maria Snyder recognized that emerging minds were not simply a receptacle for knowledge, but a tool to acquire it.
Less than half of four-year-olds in America are enrolled in publicly-funded preschool programs. Many of them are considered to be of low quality, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. In a Queens Chronicle article dated April 27, 2017, the City Hall cited research “showing [that] children with two years of preschool are less likely to need special education in the future and are better at social interaction than their colleagues with less preparation.” In the same article, Mayor de Blasio stated that “investment in early childhood education reaps benefits for students, families, and communities for years to come.”
Children’s brains develop the most between the ages of zero and five, which is why it is so important that all of their environments—home, school, and the community—be infused with high quality experiences and full opportunities for learning. During these years, children develop early literacy and language skills, socio-emotional resilience, build important bonds with caregivers, and learn how to play with others. Early brain development determines academic performance and success later on, which is why it is crucial that young children are constantly stimulated by their surroundings. This helps them to prepare for school and to continue performing well once enrolled.
Unfortunately, many preschool and kindergarten programs are chronically underfunded—not just in New York and the United States, but all over the world. Communities everywhere face tremendous challenges in delivering quality education. To miss the opportunity to invest in young children and their development means neglecting one of the greatest opportunities for social advancement.
For this reason, Eco Boys and Girls has made it its mission to invest in young children and early learning, and to bring quality education to preschool and primary school children everywhere. Eco Boys and Girls is a children’s media company that delivers research-based, high quality learning about the environment, sustainability, and interconnectedness through five colorful characters that aim to engage children in learning and early brain development. While emphasizing basic literacy and socio-emotional skills through colorful books, curricula, teacher guides, and hands-on activities, children are engaged in playful educational experiences through which they learn about their surroundings, taking care of the planet, and each other.
Eco Boys and Girls provides ongoing programming with the Association of Children’s Museums, which engages preschool children in hands-on science activities. In partnership with the leading peace and conflict resolution organization Search for Common Ground, Eco Boys and Girls has launched the Eco Boys and Girls Peace & Justice Program in Lebanon; that will soon expand to Macedonia and Kosovo. Through these programs, children from different ethnic backgrounds are brought together to learn about collaboration, sustainability, and the importance of respecting differences.
In the first year of implementation in Lebanon, one teacher noted how, at the beginning of the program, children from Lebanese and Syrian backgrounds refused to talk to each other, and by the end, how they worked together to read stories and create projects. Another participating teacher commented that “learning how to maintain love and peace between the Lebanese and Syrian children [by] increasing English language skills, which are conveyed through valuable stories, is the purpose of this project.”
Programming in Latin America and Canada is also underway to expand similar messaging. Eco Boys and Girls’ successes are in large part due to the high quality materials and designs that capture children’s attention. They are also due to programs, which are designed to stimulate children in many ways, from early literacy and collaboration to science, sustainability, and peace education. Furthermore, the engagement of children across their environments— home, school, and community—means that important and lasting effects will take hold. It is through this platform and approach that early childhood education can be improved and impactful for children everywhere.
Sophia Collas is Eco Boys and Girls’ Director of International Education and is a graduate of the International and Transcultural Studies Department at Teachers College, Columbia University. Maria Snyder is an artist, activist, entrepreneur, and model who is the creator of Eco Boys and Girls’ characters to inspire children to be more engaged in shaping a better world for each other and their environment.