Children begin learning long before they enter a classroom setting, and on September 8th, the bipartisan Congressional Pre-K Caucus highlighted the impact that early learning opportunities outside the classroom can have on a child’s academic performance in the classroom.  The caucus chairpersons include Representatives Joaquin Castro (TX), Katharine Clark (MA), Tom Cole (OK) and Richard Hanna (NY). Thursday’s panel featured Esther Lofgren, a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist for Rowing and a member of Champions for America’s Future, Linda Simensky, Vice President of Children’s Program at PBS, and Dr. Andrea Anderson, a Participating Pediatrician of the Reach Out and Read Program.

The case for investing in American children’s early learning and development is apparent both inside and outside the classroom. The panelists emphasized that children begin learning at birth, and continue learning outside of classroom settings. Lofgren recounted her early opportunities playing sports as a key lever for not only her Olympic success, but her academic success as well, which includes graduating valedictorian. For Lofgren, playing sports went far deeper than increasing her physical skills and abilities – it supported her social-emotional development that served as a bedrock for further learning and success as a student. Linda Simensky of PBS also spoke on the role of social-emotional development the early years, and described the goal of the Children’s Program at PBS as not so much encouraging children to watch additional TV, but rather to be there when they do watch. Through the Ready to Learn Television grant, authorized under Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), PBS partners with the U.S. Department of Education to develop children’s educational television programming that seek to build the cognitive, problem solving, and social-emotional skills children need for school readiness. This way, children’s exposure to television can be age-appropriate and encourage an enthusiasm for learning that can be transferred to the classroom.

Another setting outside the classroom that can positively impact early learning is the doctor’s office. Dr. Anderson is a pediatrician in D.C. who participates in the Reach Out and Read evidence-based program that incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice. Reach Out and Read has more than 5,500 program sites where they distribute upwards of 6.5 million books a year to children and provide families with strategies for sharing books with their young children to encourage early literacy skills. The program started in Boston nearly 30 years ago, and last year the Reach Out and Read model was authorized in federal education policy for the first time when ESSA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

As evidenced by the Pre-K Caucus’s panelists, recognizing the value of early learning and investing in it can happen in many settings to encourage school readiness for all children.