For more than 40 years, schools across the country have celebrated The Week of the Young Child to advocate for early childhood education – an everyday passion at in Braintree that is being promoted with special activities and open houses this week.
The Week of the Young Child, sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, has been an annual event since 1971 and aims "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."
At the school on West Street, featured activities include gardening, face painting, cooking, storytelling and athletics, and families are encouraged to visit throughout the week.
"They make it fun for the kids," director Christine Burke says of her staff, the vast majority of whom have been at the school since it was founded. "[Students] think they are just playing a fun game, but they are learning too."
Teachers at Goddard go beyond "cookie cutter" curriculum and create special projects and expand on lesson plans so that each child, or "friend" as the school calls them, can enjoy learning, Burke said in an interview on Monday, which was the kick-off day for the celebration.
"We want them to put in their creativity, their style into the curriculum," Burke said. "It's not just baby sitting, it's not just day care."
Mindy Zenga brought The Goddard School to Braintree nearly 11 years ago when her children had grown and left home. It is part of a large network of schools around the country that were founded in the mid-1980s and are headquartered in Pennsylvania.
The school serves children as young as infants through age six, and recently began an after-school program for older kids as well. As a franchise, the Braintree location has more latitude in terms of its programming, Burke said, but also receives support from Goddard HQ and has guidelines that are sometimes more stringent than those required by the NAEYC. About 140 children are enrolled altogether – 60 percent from Braintree – and of those the school has 40 subsidized children from low-income families.
Goddard has celebrated The Week of the Young Child every year since starting in Braintree, and Burke said that the suggested programs line up well with what the school already does.
"You can't measure what they get here," Burke said. "We hear it every day" from parents about their kids, "how smart they are, how well behaved they are."
One of the week's aspects – Public Policy and Advocacy – is particularly important to Burke. There is a bill currently in committee at the State House known as the Access to Quality Early Education and Care Workforce Act that proponents say would improve early childhood education centers, in part by providing collective bargaining rights.
According to the AFL-CIO, "In Massachusetts, low levels of compensation, difficulty in accessing educational and professional opportunities and a lack of provider input in the early education system all threaten to undermine the quality of care."
Although not yet required, all of Goddard's teachers in Braintree have bachelor's degrees, many have master's, and each are committed to early childhood education not just as a stepping stone, but as a career, Burke said.
"They realize they are starting and shaping [a child's] whole education here," she said.