By Joyce Coronel
The first five years of a child’s life are crucial to their development. A Tempe woman, who understands that and has devoted much of her life to helping children and their parents, recently received an honor for her efforts.
Ann Lynn DiDomenico was selected 2021 First Things First East Maricopa Region Champion for Young Children. First Things First, created when Arizona voters approved an additional tobacco tax of 80 cents per pack in 2006, is a public funding source for early childhood education.
DiDomenico, who was an elementary school teacher prior to getting involved with First Things First, received an award for local volunteers who give of their time and talents to champion the cause of early childhood education.
DiDomenico first became interested in early-advocate childhood development during college when she was an office assistant to the director of the campus preschool. Later, when she became the mother of three sons, she remembered the excitement of preschool students and their sense of wonder at learning.
“Throughout my career, I have always put the needs of children at the forefront of my work,” DiDomenico said. “I have been committed to literacy, early childhood development and parent education for many years.”
She’s been involved with First Things First since its inception and created the early-literacy program Helping Us Grow. The program benefits families in the Thew/Escalante community in South Tempe by providing children with books and parents with ideas, strategies and resources to assist them in being a supportive partner in their child’s reading development.
Education in those early, formative years is key, she emphasized.
“Education is really going to establish a child’s security in the future,” DiDomenico said. “Job security, employment, homeownership—all of those things. It’s hard for many people to grasp that they really start before a child is 5 years old.”
One of DiDomenico’s roles with FTF is parent education.
In working to assist parents, she noted they all love their children and want what’s best, “but I think many feel like they should come into being a parent knowing everything they need to know.”
That’s when reality bumps up against the illusion, she said. Parents are bombarded with information from social media, books, articles and other parents, making it tough to know what or whom to believe.
“It’s so hard to be a parent. So I think that those early years often are spent in a lot of trial error,” DiDomenico said.
Young children’s brains are wired for learning, she said, and parents need support, information and strategies to maximize that learning. And when people talk about young children misbehaving, DiDomenico offered a sage observation.
“It’s often because they’re not being engaged enough, they’re not being challenged enough and they’re not being given the right kind of learning environment,” she said.
In that vein, she’s been involved with helping to develop Tempe PRE, a free or half-tuition preschool program offered by the city for income-eligible families who live in Tempe.
There’s also a full-tuition option for other families.
The program is for 3- and 4-year-olds and focuses on kindergarten readiness through a play-based curriculum.
“The more we invest in creating stable, enriching environments early in a child’s life, the greater the personal and economic outcomes will be not only for the child, but for their family and for the community,” DiDomenico said.