The most memorable scene of the picture perfect photo op on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday was not the 40-by-40 foot game of Chutes and Ladders with an early childhood education theme spread out on the ground. It wasn’t even Sen. Tom Harkin valiantly torquing his body, trying – and failing — to make a sparkly pink hula hoop stay up around his waist.
No, instead it was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand kicking off her shoes, sitting down on a corner of the life-size game with a group of squirming three-year-olds, pulling one onto her lap, and not only leading a lively discussion of favorite colors, books, foods and numbers, but expertly mediating what could have been an ugly tussle between Mercedes and Michayla over a little red ladder they both wanted to play with.
The Chutes and Ladders game was set up to call attention to the benefits of high-quality early childhood education and to try to return attention to President Obama’s $75 billion universal preschool initiative, which has been languishing as fractious lawmakers squabble over Syria, the debt ceiling or take another vote to overturn the health care law about to go into effect.
Lawmakers and business leaders showed up throughout the morning to take the microphone and announce their commitment to early learning for all and take a turn playing the game, set up by MomsRising, a national advocacy group, and the National Women’s Law Center.
Ladder: “Children who have high quality early learning are more likely to graduate from high school and gain stable employment and less likely to be arrested.”
Chute: “Pay for child care workers is barely above the federal poverty threshold.”
Because Gillibrand, D-New York, in her stocking feet, and her ease and competence with both children and public policy, shows just how much Congress has changed since it last considered a major preschool and child care bill in the early 1970s.