Starting Strong with Oregon’s Birth Through Five Literacy Plan

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Last summer, with bipartisan support, the Oregon Legislature passed the Early Literacy Success Initiative (HB 3198) with leadership from Governor Tina Kotek. The bill charged the Department of Early Learning and Care (DELC) with establishing a Birth Through Five Literacy Plan, and with distributing grants from the Birth Through Five Literacy Fund.

The goals of the plan are to expand culturally specific early literacy programs for children from birth to age five, to provide training and coaching for direct service staff in early literacy, and to develop and expand language revitalization efforts by federally recognized Indian Tribes in Oregon.

In January, DELC Director Alyssa Chatterjee provided testimony about the importance of a plan rooted in the understanding that the skills a child develops in their first five years are essential building blocks to literacy and open doors to opportunity:  

“Those first 2,000 days of a child’s life, that time between birth and kindergarten entry, represent the most consequential period in human development,” Director Chatterjee said. “During this time, children are establishing critical attachment to care givers, learning to communicate with others, to regulate their emotions, and this gives us one of the greatest opportunities to address early literacy development.” 

Child reading book
Photo by Lina Kivaka

The Birth Through Five Literacy Plan aligns with DELC’s mission to foster coordinated, culturally appropriate and family-centered services that recognize and respect the needs of all children, families and early learning professionals.

Before a child learns to read and write, they learn to listen and speak. Brain science shows that children are developing these skills from birth, which is why support for children to gain early literacy skills is critical in the first few years of life. Literacy learning starts at home in in the lap of a trusted and caring adult – long before a child enters preschool or kindergarten.  

DELC’s work on the initial plan is part of the broader Early Literacy Success Initiative, and the agency is partnering closely with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to expand investments and build infrastructure to strengthen early literacy.  At the January meeting of the Early Learning Council, ODE Director Dr. Charlene Williams echoed the importance of early literacy and referenced social-emotional health and recent brain science research in ensuring a strong start:

 “When a child’s cortisol is high, cognition is low and it’s difficult for them to show up ready to learn,” Director Williams said. “This is really about how we create the conditions for our young scholars to be ready to learn.”

In drafting the plan, DELC incorporated feedback from parents and community partners. DELC proposed the distribution of $9.4 million to expand access to Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Program services and to applicants who meet criteria for the Early Childhood Equity Fund through a newly-established Birth Through Five Literacy Program.  This approach will allow funding to be distributed across the state to new and existing Early Childhood Equity Fund grantees to ensure communities can begin benefiting from these resources quickly.

This spring, DELC will release applications for funding to qualified providers. The agency will also be seeking additional community engagement to inform a more robust 2024 Birth Through Five Literacy Plan to submit to the Legislature in December. DELC will provide annual status updates to the Legislature to track progress.

With this approach, DELC is on track to help ensure Oregon’s youngest children have access to safe and supportive environments and positive early childhood experiences which foster early language skills and the formation of strong attachments. Investing in this early foundation will increase access to opportunity, build skills towards early literacy, and improve outcomes for children both now and for generations to come.

The full Birth Though Five Literacy plan is available to read on the DELC website.

About Author

Kate Gonsalves is the Director of Communications for Oregon Department of Early Learning and Care.

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