September 11, 2007 > Kidango
By Justine Yan
Kidango creates the home in every classroom and the learning environment within each family, for over 3300 children annually, ranging from newborn infants to the 12 year olds in the Bay Area.
"If you think about it, not so much has to be done about libraries or K-12 education. People now just assume that that's important. People have much more a sense of the value of education," Paul Miller said. He is the executive director of Kidango, a private non-profit organization based in Fremont with 38 centers spread throughout Union City, Newark, Hayward, Livermore, Dublin, and San Jose as well.
According to Miller, people are not aware of the importance of preschool and its role in a child's brain development. He mentioned that the highest amount of brain development occurs from birth to the age of five, and then continues at a considerable pace until eight. There is sustained development during puberty, from about 12 to 24, but during that period, it's more around risk-taking.
"...In high school, there are kids who take a lot of risk without thinking about what the value is. They just do it because they can't assess. Risk creates creativity. [But] we want to have people assess risk in a way that's appropriate, that balances the risk and the value that you get."
In Kidango, the focus is on cultivating social skills and emotional behavior. A type of curriculum that is gaining momentum, called Incredible Years, focuses on teaching children just those skills. Miller explained that Kidango wants children to "come away being able to resolve problems with each other, and to communicate effectively using words, not force or violence." And how do teachers instill this lifelong wisdom? In many ways including puppet shows!
You can't help realizing that Kidango is not only seeking to create a future of greater success in school, but also in life, with an analogy like this:
"If I were to ask parents what they want from [their children], they'll immediately say short term: they want them to get A's in school. But if I were to say, "What do you want from your son when he's forty?" it'll change dramatically. They'll want him to be happy. They'll want him to be in a good relationship, hopefully happily married...with kids, financially well off enough so that he's not struggling. So the A he gets in junior high becomes irrelevant when he's 40 or 50."
Miller continues, "In order to be successful, there's that whole range of skills that children develop as they mature. And some adults never gain those skills."
But there is more than one vital factor to be considered for a child to do well in school and further down the path. "You may find some high school-ers who have lost all interested in learning. But that's not because they started out that way," Miller says. "It's because something happened through a process of educators not working to keep that excitement about learning things. Children are naturally magnificent learners. They are always wondering and asking questions about their environment. Because of this, they have unlimited potential. Kidango seeks to capitalize on that innate curiosity by just letting it run free, positively stimulating the child through play."
As parents and teachers, we may be underestimating the effect of various levels of trauma to budding students, such as witnessing violence or suffering abuse. "We can measure how it diminishes the connection of neurons."
And for rapidly growing children, the little things matter a great deal. A child prone to biting others deserves more than an immediate "time out", but a little bit of understanding as well.
"Think of the times when you've personally gotten mad. You've felt either your space was violated, or people weren't respectful to you. All those are even magnified for very young children. We don't want to contribute to their own frustration as to why they bite."
For a long time, people didn't realize that when you talk to a child, she is learning language, whether she talks back or not. And sometimes, a child will pick up a book simply because there are books in the house. This knowledge was very important for Kidango, especially Miller. He believes that a love for reading, when started early, will remain a source of pleasure and knowledge, long after the school years. Kidango teachers pay close attention to a child's ability to cut straight, a fine motor skill critical in developing literacy.
The research is plentiful and undeniable, possibly life-changing. Kidango takes the extra step by working with Kindergarten teachers for valuable input, and continues to make it a point to advocate on behalf of all children.
"What we're trying to convey is that society is missing the boat if we don't value preschool for children."
Positive reports from Kindergarten teachers confirm Kidango's success: students are much more focused than their peers.
And it is obvious that parents are also missing the boat if they don't acknowledge the importance of the family's role, and society's role, because these are the environments in which children are immersed when not in class. Children learn out of context. Each child comes within the context of family, and eventually their schools, though Kidango values a child's individuality immensely. When asked how Kidango serves as a leader in early child education and care, Miller replied, "We are cutting edge in what we do, being very much committed to cultural and other diversity. We're committed to looking at best practices based on very good research. So not just doing things because it's always been done this way, but looking at what works with children, what works with families."
"We need to work together with families... and community to provide the best. You never have enough [resources] to provide the best quality, but you do the best with what you have and make sure your resources are focused on the things you know will work well."
The sources of revenues, funding and donations for Kidango are almost as diverse as the children served. A significant amount of money is raised from individuals, with the generous support of numerous restaurants and sponsors each year during the annual Taster's Showcase. Gifts from the Heart is a drive in which sponsors, who range from individuals to large corporations, donate daily items to low income and homeless children. These may include backpacks filled with school supplies (even the optional box of tissue paper) and warm clothes, food, blankets and brand new toys during the holiday season.
A substantial fraction of the income pie is provided by federal funding, the State Department of Education, the counties for mental health services, the cities, and school districts.
Every dollar matters to Kidango. Even though it may sound like the organization is just getting by, everything about Kidango proves just the opposite. The teachers are well qualified and responsive. The ratio of teachers to children transcends all regulations. Classroom renovations, and the construction of new playgrounds are not rare events.
"When I walk into classrooms, what strikes me most... is that there's a calmness within a classroom. There are a lot of things that show nurturing, not just between the teachers and the students, but also among students, that they have empathy for each other. Children have an opportunity to learn, and we know that there are different learning styles for everybody."
When structuring curriculum, Kidango teachers search for new ways to stimulate all the senses of each child. The children adapt to all types of learning styles: visual, auditory, reading, and interactive. The teachers make detailed assessments of each individual, and plan their classes accordingly, always keeping in mind that few children learn to walk before they crawl.
"Children are different, and we need to work with them from where they are. And what I mean by that is their skill level, their curiosity, their needs - sometimes basic needs, such as being hungry. [We] look at children as unique, instead of just mass production. School is not a factory and it shouldn't be."
It all starts with preschool. Big things and big futures come - or at least start - in small packages. Each Kidango staff has learned to treasure the little things, because they know the children do too.
Today Kidango's services include early intervention services (to meet the needs of children with developmental delays), part-day preschool, the Teen Parent Program, the Head Start Programs ( for infants to five year olds from low income families, providing a range of individualized services, including early childhood development and education, medical, dental and mental health, nutrition and parent involvement), and parent education - all free of charge to qualifying families.
In addition are Club Kidango (a fun environment for elementary school-aged children, before and after school, to stimulate growth in literacy, the arts, physical activity, science and much more), Community Family Services (a network of family childcare homes and support services to provide quality child development and care to families of the Santa Clara County with children up to age 12), and mental health services.
You soon come to realize that the passionate, caring staff is not just working for you. It's working with you. For many, Kidango has always been part of the family, at a child's side rocking the cradle, and then helping with homework as time flips by, much like a colorful picture book.
Every day, Kidango puts out a helping hand for anyone who will take it. At the same time, it's opening its arms to embrace the future, and grasping as many other hands as possible to create a network of hope and inspiration. Hand in hand, we can each be a "Kid and Go." Kidango.
To register for Kidango, please call 1-800-262-4252
Kidango Administrative Office
4533 Mattos Drive
(510) 744 9280 or (800) 262 4252
For more information regarding volunteering, donations and fundraising events, please visit the Kidango website at: www.Kidango.org.