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The Foundation for Early Learning

What's all the buzz about early learning? It seems like early learning is all over the news these days and no one could be happier about it than Jeanne Anderson, executive director of the Foundation for Early Learning.

"We've been beating the drum to make people aware of early learning for six years," Anderson explains. "It feels like our efforts have borne fruit... and people are talking about early learning in board rooms, newsrooms, and living rooms."

The Foundation for Early Learning, a public charity, was founded by former Washington State First Lady Mona Lee Locke in 2000 to carry out the recommendations of former Gov. Gary Locke's Commission on Early Learning. The commission, co-chaired by Mona Lee Locke and Melinda French Gates, culminated with the creation of the Foundation (with Mona Lee Locke as board chair) and an initial gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since its inception six years ago, the Foundation has awarded over $4 million in grants and leveraged an additional $9 million in additional resources.

Research has provided greater awareness about the importance of early learning. Scientific discoveries demonstrate that trillions of neural connections are made during the first five years of life. In fact, by age 5, a child's brain is 90-percent developed. Research has also shown that experiences and interactions with parents and caregivers are instrumental in forming these neural connections.

"Parents are their baby's first teachers and they want and need information and supportive services," Anderson says. "Our Getting School Ready! initiative is aimed at supporting parents in this role. And since many parents both work outside of the home and need child care, but much of it is not high-quality, we also focus on increasing access to high-quality childcare as part of this initiative.

The Foundation has played an important role as an initial investor of many innovative projects. For example, it funded Welcome Baby! projects in both King and Skagit counties. Although the projects have different partners and approaches based on local community needs, both provide new parents with hospital and in-home visits in order to offer information and introduce parents to support systems.

Another example of the Foundation's investment is its support of the Family, Friends, and Neighbors (FFN) Project in King County. The quality of child care has a huge impact on a child's life, and many young families are not in a financial position to pay for high-quality care, which can cost as much as tuition to the University of Washington. Consequently, many parents turn to informal caregivers for help. FFN provides training and developmentally appropriate child activities through Play and Learn groups in community settings such as libraries or family centers.

The Foundation is a leader in convening parents, caregivers, educators, social service providers and others to create partnerships, and it often provides first funding while encouraging others to join in. The Foundation was an early leader and funder of a collaboration called the Early Care and Education Coalition, which has now grown into a private/public partnership known as Thrive by Five Washington.

"I'm proud of all the projects we've started," Anderson says. "While our grant-making is visible to the public, the strategic work we do behind the scenes is equally important. We're pleased to have played a pivotal role in creating the momentum for the new Department of Early Learning and Thrive by Five Washington."

Get involved

Interested in getting involved? Visit www.earlylearning.org, and subscribe to e-news, which offers up-to-date information about local early learning efforts, parent tips, book reviews, conferences and training opportunities.

Readers may also attend the Foundation's Early Learning Leadership Luncheon on March 2, 2007, at the Westin Seattle. This annual benefit draws parents, grandparents, community and business leaders, educators and others interested in supporting the Foundation. For more information, contact Francesca@earlylearning.org or call 206-525-4801.

The Foundation for Early Learning is one of four Puget Sound organizations featured in ParentMap's 2006 Giving Together campaign, which supports and promotes agencies that are striving to improve the lives of families in our community. Other Giving Together partners include Hopelink, PEPS and Great Starts.

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