This is an exciting time of the year: Back to School. There is a flurry of activity designed to help children start school prepared. During the recent tax free shopping weekend, the shopping malls were busy as well as the office supply stores to which I can attest! Hair salons are also busy this time of year as children want to look their best on the first day of school. While many people associate these activities with back to school, there are more impactful steps required to prepare children to succeed in school which may be the difference between a high school diploma and a prison sentence.

It is well-documented that early childhood education equates to increased high school graduation and reduced rates of prison enrolment. Education attainment begins at birth not just when a child enters the proverbial red brick school house. Children are born with a natural curiosity and desire for learning. They seek to understand their world and grow in it. They need loving parents and caring adults in their life to provide answers on their quest for knowledge. It is this type of school preparation that sometimes gets overlooked by parents and caring adults.

Brain research shows in great detail that children respond to positive, nurturing relationships and quality stimulation. You should read, sing, play, take nature walks with children. Talk about what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Limit time and exposure to screens of any kind. Listen to your child, whether they are cooing, babbling or talking in complete sentences. The early years of a child’s development set the stage for later success in school and life. As President Obama and Governor Bentley have both stated, investments in early childhood reap benefits later in life including high school graduation and reduction in crime both of which effect prison population.

Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded with many under- and uneducated persons compared to the general population. Fewer prisoners have a high school diploma or GED than the general population. Alabama has made considerable investments in making quality early learning available to families who want it with the state’s First Class Pre-k programs. These classrooms are full which may result in more children entering school ready to succeed and continuing to stay in school rather than dropping out and becoming incarcerated. It’s a long-term plan to develop more high school graduates and fewer inmates among other benefits.

So as school begins, make the concerted effort to be involved in children’s learning, no matter how young or old they are. Visit classrooms, meet teachers, find ways you can support children’s learning in the home. Schools are not the only place for children to learn. They learn from you and spend more time with you then in the classroom. Let this be the best school year ever and keep the learning going even after school dismisses. It could make the difference for your child.