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Building Blocks of Early Learning Communities

  ·   By Cailin O'Connor

What would it take to become a community where all young children and their families have the opportunities and support they need to truly thrive? CSSP and the National League of Cities (NLC) have joined forces to help cities and counties move toward that goal. We are proud to support the spread of “Early Learning Communities” across the country, helping to achieve a vision of the United States as an Early Learning Nation. 

Over the past year, nine communities in our Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC), as well as seven cities convened by NLC, have been engaged in helping us define, describe and better understand what it takes to build an Early Learning Community. (See the listing of communities and more in this press release from the launch of the project in 2015.) There is much to learn from the leaders in these communities that are already working hard to build effective early childhood systems – both from the lessons they’ve learned as they’ve forged this path, and from the questions they raise as they deepen their work.

Working with these communities, and with generous support from the Bezos Family Foundation, we’ve developed a new report, Early Learning Communities: Building Blocks for Success, which describes four key building blocks that make up an Early Learning Community: 

  • Community leadership, commitment and public will to make young children and their families a priority
  • Quality services that work for young children and their families
  • Neighborhoods where families can thrive
  • Policies that support families

The report also describes the critical role of effective leadership, use of data to drive change, sustainable financial backing and supports for service providers – all elements of how local leaders put the pieces together to ensure that the building blocks are in place, supported and achieving positive results. Throughout the report, examples from multiple cities and counties illustrate what these building blocks look like in different settings.

The vision of a community where all children learn and thrive is an exciting one. Translating it into reality is equally exciting – and a challenge that requires vision, commitment and hard work by many people working together. This report is the first in a series of guidance documents that aim to help local leaders move their communities toward this goal.


Cailin O'Connor is a senior policy analyst at CSSP.

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