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ECFE putting children on right path

FAIRMONT — Early childhood programs are key to ensuring a child starts on the right step, not just when it comes to cognitive development but for emotional, social and physical development as well.

Sandy Soelter is the parent educator of the Early Childhood Family Education program at Fairmont Elementary School. The program is intended for children ages 0-5. Soelter said there was once a big push for awareness of and funding for ECFE programs, but she has noticed a decline.

“I’m hoping to draw more attention to it because it’s such a huge thing that some people don’t know about,” she said.

Early childhood development covers cognitive, emotional, social and physical development of a young child from the time they are in the womb until 8 years old. Early childhood development affects a person’s overall development and how they will turn out as an adult.

“We want to do as much as possible during that time to help their development in order to maximize their full potential and have the best future well-being as possible,” Soelter said.

She likened the process to building a house. She said you need to gather all the parts early on in order to have a strong foundation.

Part of the ECFE program is the Discovery Place Preschool program, which includes about 120 students ages 3-5. Lexy Clemetson, a preschool teacher for the program, explained that attending preschool is not mandatory but kindergarten teachers notice what children have gone to preschool and what ones have no experience. She said preschool is beneficial because it allows for social interaction and provides students with a routine.

Clemetson, who has taught at the school for seven years, said they did notice an increase in enrollment numbers three years ago when Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten began. Adopted in Minnesota in 2016, it is a free program instituted for the purpose of preparing 4- and 5-year-olds for kindergarten. Prior to VPK funding, preschool was paid for by families.

“We have added days to our preschool program,” Clemetson said. “We used to have two full-time teachers and a part-time, but now we have three full-time teachers.”

The additions have been made since the school received VPK funding.

In addition to preschool classes, ECFE offers other classes for young students and their parents. Soelter teaches the infant classes and does the parenting portion of the ECFE classes. She said the classes really help with the parent-child bond, which is just as important as preschool classes. She stressed that young children need to have a loving bond with parents because it helps build young children’s sense of safety and security, which will help them be more successful.

The parent-child classes are $90 for the entire year, or about $10 per month. Scholarships are available.

“If the child gets great early-learning experience and good bonding, then that’s more effective and less costly than attempting to address the consequences of them not getting those things later on,” Soelter said.

She pointed out that for $1 spent on quality early childhood programs there is a return on investment of $4 to $9. However, the return goes down as a child gets older.

ECFE also just began its second series of Family Fun Nights. The first took place earlier this week. There are still seven nights planned over the rest of the school year. It’s $5 per family or a punch card can be purchased for $25.

“That always includes a meal and activities for the kids and parents to do together,” Soelter noted. “We always have our preschool gym open to use at that time. It’s a really good opportunity. Research has shown that even eating meals together as a family increases a child’s success in school.”

For more information on ECFE and classes offered, those interested may call (507) 235-6205.

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