At a recent First Teacher session a parent wrote:

I like when we talk about goals for our children because we are the First Teacher that is very true.  This program teaches us to interact with our children so that they learn.  It is not just a simple book, it is a tool to learn.

This parent comment is right at the heart of the First Teacher Program offered by the Children’s Reading Foundation of Dona Ana County.  First Teacher was locally designed and developed for bi-lingual Hispanic families in Dona Ana County to address the reality that 65% of children in the county have no preschool experience.

Recent research indicates that children 18 months old understand 80% of what they hear.  Children begin learning at birth.  In the First Teacher program, parents discover how their children develop and learn and come to understand that they, the mom and dad, are their child’s first teacher.

Parents learn that the public schools expect children entering kindergarten able to write their name, know letters and that letters represent sounds.  Children are expected to be able to count items and recognize colors and geometric shapes.  Yet, 65% of our children enter kindergarten WITHOUT these skills, already behind on the first day of school.  While these children will begin learning and will progress every year they are in school, most of them will never “catch up”.  They will not be reading at grade level at third grade or performing at grade level in fifth grade.  Or seventh grade.  Very likely they will drop out of school.

While the gap in success is almost impossible to close, it can be prevented.  The time to make a difference is during the critical learning years between birth and age 5, the time when those who are with the child most – the parents –can influence the child’s future.

The First Teacher program provides parents with materials, books and lots of ideas for talking, playing and reading with their children to develop preschool skills.  Talking and playing with a child just 5 minutes a day makes a difference.

“One, two, three.  Three steps up to the porch.”  “Do you want to wear the green shirt or the red one?”

Reading with a child 20 minutes a day and talking about the book adds tremendously to a child’s learning experience.  Another parent observed

My child and I are spending time everyday to read, play a game (that is actually benefitting him) and just bonding. I’m very excited to see what my three year old can do in six weeks as we continue to play every day together.

The First Teacher program is in its second year and has held classes at Booker T.  Washington, Conlee, Jornada and Valley View elementary schools.