In Tampa Bay, we need to ensure that our youngest children are ready for kindergarten


As we turn our attention to a new year and new beginnings I urge your readers to consider the crisis our community is facing in early childcare and education. It may be helpful to remind readers that the Early Learning Coalition works to ensure all our community’s youngest children grow up to achieve anything they can imagine. We do this primarily by supporting the small business childcare operations who work to prepare children for kindergarten, who do so because they love children and the joy of inspiring brain development.

Frederick Hicks, chief executive officer, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County
Frederick Hicks, chief executive officer, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County [ handout ]

In 2023, our commitment is to work diligently to bring information to help parents and the community learn about the importance of brain development of children by the time they enter kindergarten. When the brain is properly stimulated from an early age, children are able to maximize individual learning potential. Our interest lies in helping the community learn to minimize electronic devices, or what is popularly called “screen time,” using the time instead to talk, read and sing to children. The more informed and engaged we are about child brain development before age 5, the more potential our children have to achieve in math, reading, school, and life. Being “school ready” is important for all children, and particularly those who may be at risk. Kindergarten readiness has been affected by the COVID pandemic and, recently, the flu and RSV or a combination thereof.

In 2023, we are urging families to read about tuning in, talking more and taking turns with every child, while learning about the positive indicators of how play also increases a child’s skills. Long-established research shows that children who participate in play-oriented early childhood classrooms show long-term academic gains (Marcon, 2002; Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006; Weiland & Yoshikawa, 2013). Research further tells us that the lack of affordable quality childcare prevents parents and guardians from showing up to work, causing problems for business and economic problems for families. To learn if you might qualify for early childhood education assistance, visit our website at

With education and information, we can grow a better community for all, and it starts with ensuring that our children are prepared and ready to enter kindergarten. Tampa Bay is growing and developing, and we want to make sure that our future workforce can support the city’s economy of the future. We can all assist by remembering that safe play is good for early childhood brain development and every child deserves such.

Frederick Hicks is the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.

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