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Guest column: The importance of early childhood education

Suzan Gage, Special to the News-Herald

The older children get, the more we can see how significant their younger years were in their development. Experiences occurring during this period provide the foundation for them as individuals when they grow older. With a strong foundation, they can grow into successful adults.

This is why the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida (ELCNWF) emphasizes the importance of early education and the effects it can have on your children beyond their youngest years.

There are many tools available that contribute to a child’s future success, but two big factors that help ensure your child is on track for a bright education: consistently doing checkups on how they’re developing and understanding the far-reaching impact childcare teachers have on a child’s life.

These go hand in hand as parents and guardians search for resources that will help them navigate the complexities of raising a child and setting them up for success.

It’s vitally important for parents to understand just how ready their children are for kindergarten, both physically and developmentally. ELCNWF is partnered with Help Me Grow Northwest Florida, which offers free developmental screenings to children younger than 9 who live in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.

The screening begins with a simple questionnaire that will help families better understand their child’s growth and ensure that they are on the developmental track to success. Help Me Grow Northwest Florida knows how crucial early intervention is and encourages parents to use the screenings to celebrate their children’s milestones.

This service will also connect a family with a professional if early intervention is appropriate. The results of these screenings can also be shared with childcare teachers so they’re able to understand and accommodate each child’s unique needs.

Childcare teachers are the building blocks for a child’s educational success, and they set the foundation for our children’s lifelong learning experiences. Kickstart Success addresses the need for more childcare teachers in our local communities and early learning centers.

This is a tremendous opportunity for local residents to launch a career in early education, making a difference in the lives of the next generation. Becoming a childcare teacher at your own child’s learning center is a great way to make a meaningful impact in your community while spending precious quality time with your own child and being a mentor to their peers.

ELCNWF recognizes that it takes more than just one thing to ensure every child has a bright future. Developmental screenings and childcare teachers work to enhance local childcare centers and support improved early education. The result is nothing short of better outcomes for all our area’s children.

Suzan Gage is the executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida. For more information on Help Me Grow Screenings and Kickstart Success, visit

An Op-Ed by Suzan Gage, Guest columnist

We’re facing a severe shortage of childcare teachers. Here’s how you can help.

August 14, 2022

What were some of the first early learning experiences you remember? Maybe it was singing a nursery rhyme, counting building blocks, or showing your budding artistic flair with finger paint. Whatever it was, it was special — your introduction to education, lifelong learning, and relationships beyond your family.

About 17,000 children under the age of 5 live in Northwest Florida, and all of them deserve bright early learning experiences of their own. Unfortunately, many of them may face difficulties accessing early learning opportunities because our area faces a severe shortage of child care teachers. 

How severe? Among parents with kids under the age of 5 in the seven-county region of Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties, nearly 3 in 4 say they’ve had difficulties arranging adequate early learning education opportunities for their child, due to a lack of available educators.

What is Kickstart Success?

To help address this shortage of child care teachers in the area, the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida (ELCNWF) recently launched a campaign — called Kickstart Success — centered on encouraging individuals to become child care teachers. By becoming a child care teacher, they can kickstart the future success of Northwest Florida’s children, as well as their own success in a gratifying and fulfilling career in early education.

Early education helps both children and the dedicated adults who teach them. Early learning is proven to help children lead successful lives — research has shown an annual 13% return on investment per child through better education, economic, health, and social outcomes for children who are enrolled in high-quality early childhood education programs.

Career is early education is attainable

Additionally, a career in early education is highly attainable through training and certifications. Child care teaching is a career like no other because of the clear and meaningful impact it has on children’s lives. It’s a child care teacher’s job to introduce kids to learning, set them up for educational and lifelong success, and be a positive influence in their lives. Nearly 9 in 10 parents in Northwest Florida say their child’s child care teacher made a positive impact on their future.

Having worked in early education for years now, I’ve seen firsthand the many benefits that early learning has had on kids and their teachers, as well as the harm this shortage has caused to children’s education, well-being, and development. I encourage anyone with a heart for children and an interest in a rewarding career to consider becoming a child care teacher.

You have the special opportunity to create awe and wonder for a child by introducing them to the magic of education. Don’t let a child in your area miss out on their first learning experiences, and don’t miss out on a meaningful career opportunity for yourself.

Suzan Gage is executive director at Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, Inc. If you have an interest in becoming a child care teacher in Northwest Florida, visit

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