Local nonprofit LIFE (‘Literacy Is For Everyone’) is partnering with the Cayman Islands Early Childhood Association on a new initiative designed to foster a love of language in the country’s youngest children, even before they learn to read.
The collaborative programme ‘Thrive By Five’ is launching at the beginning of the next school year September 2021, with the pilot project starting at Precious Gems Preschool and sponsored by Deloitte Cayman Islands.
The programme will be rolled out in phases to a total of 8 early childhood care and education centres over a period of approximately 2 years.
“The importance of investing NOW in Cayman’s youngest population cannot be overstated. As such, LIFE is over the moon to pioneer this groundbreaking, evidence-based programme. Thrive By Five empowers children in the birth to 5 age range – during the single most important period of development the brain ever undergoes – to explore sounds, letters, and print in authentic, fun, and developmentally-appropriate ways,” LIFE Executive Director Juliet Austin said.
Thrive By Five has several components aimed at supporting students, teachers and families.
LIFE’s signature programme is creating libraries for individual school classrooms. As one part of Thrive By Five, an age-appropriate and culturally relevant library will be created in each preschool, with a ratio of 15 books for every child.
The second component is teacher training — comprising a 10-point teaching series led by local early childhood education specialists, including Early Childhood Care Association President Nicola Williams, who is also Director, Owner and Head of School of Sprogs Garden Playschool.
“The Cayman Islands Early Childhood Association is so excited to be working together with LIFE and the Precious Gems school community on the Thrive by Five project. Many people think that literacy learning begins when children learn how to read and write words but the building blocks for literacy are formed much earlier through language and print-rich social interactions and environments,” Williams said.
“When literacy experiences are personal, purposeful, and embedded in context, young children gain a deeper understanding of how print helps people to organize themselves, learn, represent experiences, express themselves and get along with others. Early Childhood Education is a rich and specialized field and Thrive to Five focuses on engaging with the most up-to-date research through professional learning and family engagement,” she said.
Government regulations require that preschools be staffed with 1 licensed teacher per 10 untrained staff.
Noting that professional development is offered by the government’s Early Childhood Care and Education Unit as well as the Early Childhood Care Association, Williams said Thrive By Five will bring training to the teachers at their schools.
The Thrive By Five teaching programme includes a locally produced video education series, offered in conjunction with in-person seminars and individual training with Williams.
Thrive By Five’s third component is family engagement, where preschool teachers are trained to teach parents and caregivers how to support their children at home as they begin developing language and literacy skills.
Throughout the pilot project, organisers will be collecting and analysing data, and seeking and responding to feedback in order to improve the programme as it develops.
Austin said, “We firmly believe that, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.’ We aim to transform the acquisition of foundational literacy and communication skills by bridging the gap between home and school and fostering positive dispositions towards books and a lifelong love of language.”
Not only is the Thrive By Five programme an expansion of LIFE’s mission to a younger age group, it also is an expansion from public schools to the private sector. All preschools in Cayman are privately owned, except for the small government-run Cayman Brac Day Care Centre and the non-profit Miss Nadine’s Preschool and Jack & Jill Nursery, run by the National Council of Voluntary Organizations.
To celebrate the launch of the collaborative programme between LIFE and the Early Childhood Care Association, there will be a government reception coinciding with Literacy Day on 8 Sept.
Also on LIFE’s agenda for the fall launch is a Reading Under the Stars event where families come together to spend an evening reading with their children by flashlight.