StoryMakers, featuring Linda Clark
Hopa Mountain’s StoryMakers program invests in 6,000+ of our youngest citizens, children 0-5, for future success in life. Linda Clark heads up the StoryMakers program with a devout dedication to early childhood learning. StoryMakers is an early learning initiative that offers parents of children ages 0-5 early literacy resources and children’s books to support them in creating a home environment that gives their children the best chances for success in school. A growing body of research confirms that a strong early-learning home environment predicts children’s success in school. Success in school strongly predicts health and economic self-sufficiency in adulthood. The real work of StoryMakers is handled from within the communities, ensuring that this early childhood learning initiative is led by local citizen leaders. StoryMakers is made possible with generous support from the U.S. Department of Education through W.O.R.D., Inc., and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation, the Steele-Reese Foundation, the Jerry Metcalf Foundation, and Hopa Mountain members.
As Hopa Mountain StoryMakers began to take shape in late 2006, research was indicating that communities interested in community/economic development would be wise to focus on early childhood education, and that enforced Linda’s passion to dedicate her efforts on the youngest members of communities. The real-world interpretation of these efforts comes in the form of “tools” to parents and primary caregivers to support them in creating healthy early learning home environments. StoryMakers tools include important early learning information and training, and quality, age-appropriate children’s books for parents and children to read and talk about together.
It is crucial to know that this program is not about teaching young children how to read, but more about creating positive “language experiences”, such as talking, singing, and reading to and with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Research shows that healthy development is experience-dependent, that educational potential is created through personal interaction and exposure. “Our focus is parents”, said Linda, emphasizing that the information given to parents by local citizen leaders concerning the importance of early language experience is vital to StoryMakers’s mission. “And quality children’s books, used effectively in homes by caring adults, are multipurpose tools to promote young children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills.”
StoryMakers serves as the first step of ‘trickle up’ education, meaning that they work on the earliest levels of educational capacity building that better prepares individuals for further childhood learning. The 1990s, or ‘the Decade of the Brain’ as Linda referenced it, saw massive technological leaps in the discovery of what happens in brain development in the earliest stages of life. In short, studies showed that the educational capacity can be broadened long before a child can communicate though words. During the first couple of years, the child’s brain is especially susceptible, malleable, to outside forces. The ability to detect activity in the brain of such young individuals showed decisively that the brain is rapidly creating a foundation from which it will create broader and stronger skills throughout life. These fascinating findings are easily summed up with Linda’s conclusion that “what happens really early, really matters.”
But the real-world translation of these scientific studies is that parents reading with their new additions and communicating with and around the youngest children can and will have a productive impact on their learning capacities. Interactions around books also create an emotionally positive environment that further increases a child’s chances of success in school. Linda suggests that parents talk and sing to their babies as soon as they’re born The sheer act of being exposed to large amounts of warm interaction is greatly beneficial to the developing brain. StoryMakers books act as springboards to increase the opportunity for positive communication with young children.
Some advocates of early childhood learning have called it “the Civil Rights Issue of our time”. Opportunities to build strong early learning foundations – which correlate with success in school and in life – are unequal across America. Time for reading with young children is a luxury that not all family units can easily afford. And some families have very few print materials in their homes; some children have no age-appropriate books at all. People working with StoryMakers believe that guidance to parents and caregivers about how they can – early on – give their children the best chances for success, will encourage them to invest in their children’s future.
Leading economists make similar claims. “Skill begets skill and competency begets competency,” says Nobel Prize-winner James J. Heckman in a 2006 article in the journal Science entitled “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children”. Focusing his work on how to make the future US workforce competitive in a global marketplace, Heckman says improvement in very early childhood education for our most vulnerable children is the best economic development investment we can make for our communities and our nation. He cites longitudinal studies proving the positive accumulating effects – to individuals and to society at large – of a concerted effort in building foundational skills before formal schooling in the US now begins.
In November, StoryMakers team members from all over the state will convene in Bozeman to go over new materials and talk together about how they can be more effective in delivering the StoryMakers message and resources. Currently, there are approximately 45 local community leaders working in 11 counties with StoryMakers. The majority of the work is handled from within the communities, according to Linda’s visions that this early childhood learning initiative “should be the work of local citizen leaders”. For more information on the StoryMakers program, please visit www.hopamountain.org/StoryMakers.html.
- Alex Keenan