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Learning Matters: Families should celebrate advantages they have for their children’s futures

It's back to basics for me: life — and writing — according to the sleeping and feeding patterns of infancy.

I'm spending time in Milwaukee, caring for our daughter's 5-month-old twins while their parents are at work and their 2- and 4-year-old siblings play and learn at Milestones, the daycare center a few blocks away.

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I've written before about Milestones, where toddlers and preschoolers learn through gently guided play, as a model for developmentally appropriate early childhood education.

If all children had access to programs like this, we'd see fewer of the learning gaps public schools work so hard to close.

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Our "older" grandchildren, Piper and Adam, have learned songs and numbers, understand and follow directions, know about taking turns and making friends.

At Milestones, children wash their hands for as long as it takes them to sing the "ABC" song. They know about classroom rules and the "time out" consequences for not following them.

Four-year-old Piper's learning about dinosaurs — in addition to all she gets on that topic from her usual at-home episode of "Dino Train," an animated PBS Kids program hosted by a paleontologist.

But daycare and preschool programs aren't cheap, and that, together with the crazy logistics that would be required to maneuver all four children into and then out of their car seats and checked into their classrooms, was what prompted the call for this spring's tag team of grandmas.

Their other grandma took the first stretch; I'm handling the second.

Come summer, the twins will enjoy the care and company of an English and German-speaking au pair (and child development student), just in time for Piper's entrance into Milwaukee's German immersion school.

Similar in design to the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale, or FLAG, Milwaukee's German school has been in operation for 40 years.

But unlike California's transitional kindergarten, available only to children born in the fall months, Milwaukee offers pre-kindergarten programs for children born any time of year.

And, as Glendale Unified does for Clark Magnet High School students (though not for its FLAG students), Milwaukee provides buses for their magnet schools.

Milwaukee's school board, like Glendale's with respect to Clark, has recognized the importance of busing to provide access to a program that boosts district enrollment while providing exceptional educational opportunities for students.

Glendale has reaffirmed budgeting for Clark buses on more than one occasion over the years, much as Milwaukee recently affirmed its continued commitment to busing for its magnet programs.

That will please Piper, who stands to get one of the three wishes she recently expressed to her mom from the perch of her back-seat booster.

"Mommy, when I'm in kindergarten, can I ride the bus, get my ears pierced and get a phone?" she asked.

I'm happy to see she understands the concept of delayed gratification.

I also appreciate that her parents recognize their children's ready-made advantages: health, two parents with college educations and good careers (their mom's a school principal); a home with books and spaces to play; loving aunts and uncles, grandparents on two sides who can travel to lend a hand.

I'm gratified to see how they enjoy the support of friends and community — working moms and dads like them — who know and interact with each others' children as they watch them grow up together.

How different their experience from that of the families chronicled in one of the books I've read on this visit. "Evicted" is the nonfiction account of Milwaukee families desperately clinging to any apartment or trailer they can (Matthew Desmond, 2016).

How different even from the young families who come through Family Promise of the Verdugos and Ascencia, two local homeless-service providers. With shelter and case management, these families have good reason to be hopeful of their futures.

But when I see the challenges they face, I can't help but compare the head start our grandchildren have on their pursuit of happiness.

The babies are waking. That's all for now.

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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