Under the Dome

Getting children ready to read starts in infancy, lawmakers told

Legislators got a crash course in brain development at a breakfast meeting that emphasized attention to learning that starts at birth.

The N.C. Early Childhood Foundation and BEST NC, a group of business leaders focused on improving state education, sponsored the breakfast. Their message: getting children to read at grade level by third grade is critically important, but making sure children reach that stage starts at birth as babies’ brains are quickly building neural pathways.

“The brain is the muscle for reading,” said Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican. “It’s that simple.” She helped lead the BEST NC working group on early learning programs.

Attention is focused on the achievement gap among school-aged students, but the gap is evident at nine months old, said Tracy Zimmerman, early childhood foundation executive director.

BEST NC worked with educators, elected officials, think tanks, and non profits to develop state education goals. The business group has been talking to legislators, the state Department of Public Instruction, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s office about its ideas, said J. Walter McDowell, the group’s chairman.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican, said he was committed to supporting early childhood efforts.

“We can lead the nation in P-3,” he said. “We have the tools. Do we have the will?”

BEST NC priorities related to early childhood include increasing seats in highly-rated early childhood programs, expanding support for low-income students to attend, and supporting families of young children through programs that help prepare students to learn.