A 3-year old girl named Analia sits at a picnic table outside and displays a colorful painting in front of her. The girl and her mom participated in several learning-based activities taught to them during a home visit as part of Save the Children’s signature Early Steps to School Success program. Photo credit: Save the Children, Nov 2017.

Children who are not exposed to early learning opportunities before age 5 are left at a distinct disadvantage — and nowhere is this more evident than in America’s most under-served communities. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Children like 3-year old Analia (pictured above) are receiving support from Save the Children, thanks to you and through programs like Early Steps to School Success. Photo credit: Tamar Levine / Save the Children, Nov 2017.

In Rural America, the Silence of Poverty is Deafening

While many young U.S. children are spending this holiday season gluing googly eyes to construction-paper snowflakes or listening to stories of sugar plum fairies and polar bear trails, far too many more children are surrounded by silence.

The silence of poverty is deafening. For the 15 million children living in poverty, playtime and early learning activities like reading, singing, arts & crafts and dress-up are not necessarily a way of life. Instead, their homes are silent, vacant of sing-songy tunes that teach children how to count and absent of artwork outlining basic shapes and symbols.

In 2006, Save the Children created Early Steps to School Success, which aims to ensure that all U.S. children, including those from remote, under-served areas, have the best chance for success in school and in life. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we help the nation’s most vulnerable children become ready for kindergarten and beyond. Children like 3-year-old Analia.

There was a time when Analia’s mother, Sandra didn’t, have the resources to buy a Christmas tree for their home, let alone toys and books for her daughter. Like many of the other parents in Sandra’s rural community who live below the poverty line, educational toys and books, as well as the free time needed to engage in playtime, are out of reach.

Not only do many low-income parents lack the know-how to structure productive playtime, they simply lack the money to buy books and toys. In fact, 60% of U.S. children living in poverty don’t have a single children’s book in their homes.

Save the Children knows that when playtime is not part of a young child’s every day, they miss out on important skill-building exercises that lay the foundation for motor and language skills, problem solving, collaboration, sharing and so much more. The children enrolled in our Early Steps to School Success program are among the most vulnerable in their communities, facing risk factors associated with low education achievement, such as poverty, teenage parents or unemployed parents.

Through home visits, book exchanges, parenting groups and an emphasis on transition to school, Early Steps staff helps children with language, social and emotional development and equips parents and caregivers with the skills to successfully support children's growth.

Analia, 3, with her mom during a home visit as part of Save the Children’s signature Early Steps to School Success program in Central Valley California.

Today, Analia makes her way to her family’s small vegetable garden with her mother as an abundance of red jalapeños begin to blossom. They’re not yet ripe for picking, but the Central Valley California toddler is more than ready to tell her mom what color they are, and count the number that are growing.

The afternoon lesson is one of many new brain-building opportunities Sandra includes in Analia’s day-to-day life. While the mother of two does everyday activities around the house, like washing the dishes or preparing dinner, she has Analia name the types of dishes they’re putting away, or smell and touch the different ingredients that are coming together to make the evening meal.

“Sandra is really great about plugging Analia into her daily routines. She draws her in and keeps the language going,” said early childhood specialist Virginia, who has been visiting Sandra and family since before Analia was born. “The idea is to engage parents and children, and to give the parents the confidence that they have what it takes to be their child’s first teacher.”

Through family home visits, parents like Sandra are equipped with the skills and activities to successfully support their children’s development. And as a child grows, the program offers book exchanges and parent-child groups, laying a foundation of language and literacy skills for the child, and opportunities to develop socially and emotionally with their peers.

With limited family in the area, the parent-child group has helped Sandra build further connections in the community, as well. It has also given her opportunities to strengthen her leadership skills, as she has started to plan and run some of the group’s activities.

“I’ve seen a big growth with Sandra,” said Virginia. “She’s a lot more confident in herself.”

Sandra and Analia’s community also has a small library with very limited hours, but Virginia, through the Early Steps book exchange program, helps them constantly update their home library, strengthening Analia’s early reading skills.

Book by book, from garden visit to the next daily learning opportunity, Analia will be well prepared for preschool and beyond.

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