This week is designated as the “Week of the Young Child,” an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the world’s largest early childhood education association. The purpose of the week is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs.

Locally, the Franklin County Early Childhood Coordinating Council sponsors events and activities to celebrate the occasion. This year, the council is playing host to an open house celebration 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today at the Ottawa school board office, 1404 S. Ash St. It’s a come-and-go opportunity for parents and children from birth to 5 years old. Art project activities, gross (large muscles) motor and fine (small muscles) motor activities and refreshments are planned. Representatives from tiny-K Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education are expected be available to answer questions parents might have about child development.

You might be asking yourself, why focus on early childhood?

Years of research show the importance of children’s earliest years in shaping their learning and development. High-quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs and experiences produce both short- and long-term positive effects on children’s cognitive and social development. In other words, we can invest now in our children and families and enjoy long-term savings — a more vibrant nation of healthy, achieving children and more stable families. Or we can fail to make the investment and pay the price — increased delinquency, greater educational failures, lowered productivity and fewer adults prepared to be effective, loving parents to the next generation of children.   

Kansas has 202,606 children younger than 4, and 97,821 — or 48 percent — children younger than 6 who have both parents in the labor force, according to 2012 state statistics.

Child care providers have an enormous impact on children’s development, and research shows that better-trained providers lead to higher quality care and more positive outcomes for children. A provider’s skill level helps determine whether children in care are safe and have the early learning experiences they need to succeed in school. Children in the care of inadequately prepared providers spend more of their day in aimless activity and show delays in language and social development. Yet most providers lack the training and education needed to provide a quality environment.

In 2010, the Kansas Legislature passed significant changes to the Child Care Act. Known collectively as Lexie’s Law, the changes increased health and safety protections for children in child care settings.

The Frontier Extension District provides research-based education and information. Fran Richmond, district director of Family and Consumer Sciences, and I provide child care provider trainings in the district. We also provide information to parents about choosing quality child care, child development and parenting. If you would like more information about child care, child development or parenting, please give me a call.  

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email