Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Importance of Storytime
By Lynn Dean
“Once upon a time there was aprincess named Amy. She lived at the beach near Bob...” I listened as my youngest carefully “read” a story to her baby doll. Although the words did not match the text, I knew that I had instilled a great love of reading in my child. Indeed, she was emulating one of our favorite activities—storytime.
A love for reading and books is one of the most precious gifts parents can give their children. While knowing how to read is essential for day-to-day survival, loving to read opens new worlds for children. By reading, children can visit people in different lands, fight fire-breathing dragons to save a royal princess, or learn how to build the perfect windmill. The possibilities are endless. Even so, fostering a love of reading requires a bit of work on our part as parents.
Read, Read, Read
Storytime plays an important role in introducing children to the magic of books. Although it is never too late to start, we should begin reading books to our children when they are very small, even before they can walk and talk. As babies, children enjoy books with bright pictures and simple text. Board books that babies can manipulate themselves (and chew on) are good choices, too. Also good are books that are lyrical, such as Dr. Seuss books (my favorite is Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?) and nursery rhymes. While babies cannot understand the intricacies of the language, they do enjoy the rhythm of the words. This early introduction to reading develops a child’s love of books and fosters a close, loving relationship between parent and child.

As children grow older, our choices of books should reflect a child’s interests. My two-year-old nephew, for example, adores trains and enjoys listening to adults read books about “choo choos.” Older children also like to be involved in the story being read. Asking questions such as: “Where is the squirrel hiding?”; “Show me the orange ball.”; and “What do you think Tommy will do will next?” encourage interaction.
Here’s a Book, There’s a Book
Experts agree that the prevalence of books in the home fosters a desire to read in children. The more books and other reading materials that are available, the more children will value reading. As a result, include books (fiction and non-fiction), newspapers, magazines, books on tape (especially good for younger “readers”), and other reading materials in the home. When creating a library remember that books don’t have to be new to be entertaining. Hand-me-downs from friends and books purchased at thrift stores and garage sales work just as well as new books.

Everywhere’s a Book Nook
When encouraging children to read, remember to provide a comfortable place for reading. All that is required is a cuddly spot furnished with pillows, blankets, good lighting, and a variety of reading materials. For storage, I have found that large plastic dishpans make excellent “book buckets.” They hold books of all sizes and are portable from one reading spot to another.

The Storehouse of Knowledge
No matter how hard we try, we can’t stock all the books our children need or will want to read in a home library, although technological advances may cause me to rethink this statement in the next decade. For now, libraries are the storehouses of knowledge. There, books on every subject can be caressed and read. Want to know the difference between a reptile and an amphibian? The answer is in the library. In addition to loaning books, many libraries also set aside times for storytelling. Children enjoy seeing a book brought to life with puppets and other fanciful props.

Drop Everything and Read
Nothing is as important as fostering children’s interest in reading. That is why Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) time is important for both parents and children. DEAR time serves not only as a relaxation activity, but it also gives families who are “too busy to read” a time to refocus and get lost in a tale or two. Remember, the more our children see us read, the more they will want to read, too.

Lynn Dean is a Colorado writer and the mother of three school-age children who are voracious readers.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Many interventions and programs designed to improve low-income children's lives focus on providing high-quality early-childhood education. Preschool classrooms that are emotionally supportive, well-organized, and cognitively stimulating can help boost children's learning and development. Yet for the most part, focusing on the quality of early-childhood education has emphasized teachers, often missing the central role that children play in their own development. A new study has found that children's individual engagement with teachers, peers, and tasks was important to the gains they made during the preschool year, even after taking into account differences in classroom quality.
The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, Montana State University Billings, and the University of Virginia, is published in the journal Child Development.
"Children can have very different experiences in the same classroom and their individual engagement is associated with their learning gains above and beyond the average quality of classroom instruction," explains Terri J. Sabol, assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, who led the study. "It's important to look beyond overall classroom quality and capture children's individual experiences in classroom settings."
The study looked at 211 low-income, racially and ethnically diverse 4-year-olds in 49 classrooms in state and federally funded preschool programs. Researchers measured the children's engagement in the classroom by observing their positive and negative interactions with teachers, peers, and tasks (e.g., their ability to communicate with teachers, sociability and assertiveness with peers, self-reliance in tasks, conflicts with teachers and peers).
The quality of the classroom setting was also measured (e.g., the classroom climate, teachers' sensitivity, emotional support, classroom organization), and children were assessed on measures of school readiness in the fall and the spring of their preschool year. Most previous research has examined either the effect of classroom interactions or the role of individual children's engagement in the classroom on children's outcomes; this study included both.
"To truly understand and support individual children's development, it is vital that we have observational tools that capture individual children's engagement and the overall classroom context," notes Natalie Bohlmann, associate professor of education at Montana State University Billings, who collaborated on the study.
Children's individual engagement was related to their developmental gains, even after accounting for emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support at the classroom level, the study found. Specifically, children's positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills and their positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills. In addition, their positive engagement with tasks related to closer relationships with teachers.
Children who were negatively engaged in the classroom (e.g., those who got into conflicts with teachers or peers) were at a comparative disadvantage in terms of their school readiness, the study found. Children with higher levels of negative engagement performed at lower levels across nearly all of the academic, language, and social outcomes measured, including lower language, literacy, and self-regulatory skills.
"Interventions designed to prepare children for school should include a focus on children's individual behaviors in the classroom," adds Jason Downer, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, who was the lead investigator. "Observing children's engagement can guide decisions about where, when, and how to intervene with at-risk children, and help educators enact more useful individualized strategies in the classroom."

Story Source:
Materials provided by Society for Research in Child DevelopmentNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Terri J. Sabol, Natalie L. Bohlmann, Jason T. Downer. Low-Income Ethnically Diverse Children's Engagement as a Predictor of School Readiness Above Preschool Classroom QualityChild Development, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12832

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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‘Formal’ preschool may sharpen kids’ focus


Children who transition earlier to a formal school environment learn to be more focused and are less impulsive than children at play-based preschools, a new study suggests.
“These results demonstrate for the first time how environmental context shapes the development of brain mechanisms in five-year-olds transitioning into school,” says Silvia Bunge, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, and coauthor of the paper in Psychological Science.
Researchers hypothesized that a controlled educational setting in which young children must learn to sit still, follow directions, and avoid distractions would boost certain cognitive skills, such as staying on task. The experiment, conducted in Germany where preschool is referred to as “kindergarten,” proved the theory.
“Our results indicate that the structured learning environment of school has a positive effect on the development of behavioral control,” says lead author Garvin Brod, a researcher at the German Institute for International Educational Research.
For the study, researchers used computerized tests and brain imaging to track the cognitive performance of 62 5-year-old children.
Expel preschoolers or teach them social skills?
A comparison of the results of tests conducted at the beginning and end of a school and preschool year, show that children who had gone to school showed greater improvement than their preschool peers at maintaining focus and following rules.
Moreover, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brains during an attention control task showed the children who had started school had a more active right parietal cortex, which supports attentiveness, among other cognitive skills.
While the findings reveal new information in the ongoing debate over the developmentally appropriate age to start school, the researchers are not necessarily advocating for early school start ages.
“Those results should not be taken to mean that the elementary school setting is necessarily better for young children’s development than play-based early schooling,” Bunge says, citing other research that shows children do well in hands-on, interactive learning environments and the fact that there is enormous developmental variation across children of the same age.
The study is part of the HippoKid project led by Yee Lee Shing at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Source: UC Berkeley 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Pre-K: Decades Worth Of Studies, One Strong Message

Diverse classrooms are the key to building a better preschool, a new study reports.
Shannon Wright for NPR
Some of the nation's top researchers who've spent their careers studying early childhood education recently got together in Washington with one goal in mind: to cut through the fog of studies and the endless debates over the benefits of preschool.
They came away with one clear, strong message: Kids who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don't.
The findings come in a report "The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects," and the authors include big names from the early childhood world: Deborah Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of Vanderbilt, Kenneth Dodge of Duke, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution and others.
It lays out the current state of preschool education in the U.S. and what research can tell us about what works and what doesn't.
Among their key findings, drawing from across the research base, are:
  • While all kids benefit from preschool, poor and disadvantaged kids often make the most gains. "Researchers who study pre-K education often find that children who have had early experiences of economic scarcity and insecurity gain more from these programs than their more advantaged peers."
  • Children who are dual-language learners "show relatively large benefits from pre-K education" — both in their English-language proficiency and in other academic skills. Dual-language learners are mostly low income, Spanish speaking children, often with underdeveloped pre-literacy and pre-math skills. But, says Phillips, "there's substantial evidence now that, because they're learning two languages at the same time, they have stronger brain circuits that support self regulation." That may explain why preschool can help them make quick progress: "Their capacity to incorporate new information and to switch attention from one task to another, these are the skills they bring."
  • And yet, the researchers said, that doesn't mean preschool should necessarily be targeted toward poor or disadvantaged kids. "Part of what may render a pre-K classroom advantageous" for a poor student or a child learning English, "is the value of being immersed among a diverse array of classmates."
  • Not all preschool programs are alike. Features that may lead to success include "a well implemented, evidence-based curriculum" and an emphasis on the quality and continuous training of pre-K teachers. There's still a lot of research that needs to be done, the study concludes, "to generate more complete and reliable evidence on effectiveness factors."

Currently, the federal government, along with 42 states and the District of Columbia, spend about $37 billion a year on early childhood programs, mostly targeting low-income 3- to 5-year-olds.
When it comes to what preschools should teach, the researchers took on a big question in that field, too: Should pre-K focus on the social and emotional development of children or should it concentrate on what researchers call "skills specific curricula," namely numeracy and literacy?
The research clearly says it's not a matter of either/or.
"What we know is that children bring a vast array of experiences, both strengths and weaknesses," Phillips says. "Some children need more support than others. Some bring vast knowledge and skills."
Instruction built on social and emotional skills, rich play, toys, games, art, music and movement complements explicit instruction focused on things like learning to count and matching letters to sounds and words. Both benefit kids' readiness for school.

For researchers, the critical questions now are: What should the next generation of pre-K programs look like? What else needs to happen — in preschool and beyond — to ensure a long-term impact? And how do we connect all the dots in a child's educational trajectory beginning with preschool?

That's no easy task considering that half of the school-readiness gap between poor and affluent children is already evident by age 2, before most kids ever get to preschool.

Another major hurdle is the disconnect between pre-K and elementary education. Rather than building on the skills that kids arrive with, researchers have found lots of redundancy with kindergarten and first-grade teachers repeating a lot of what pre-K teachers do. This results in what researchers call "dead zones" that squander hard-won gains.

"On that count we cannot declare victory," says Phillips. "We need to look at the elementary grades as re-charging stations."

Pre-K programs today can also do a better job reaching out to low income families dealing with stress and mental health issues. The home, after all, provides either a sturdy or fragile foundation, researchers say.

"We know that poverty and adversity compromises the developing brain architecture and circuits," says Phillips.

And while even a high-quality program does not inoculate children from adversity and poverty, it can help mitigate those effects.

"Absolutely," says Phillips. "That is pre-K education's primary function."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why self-control matters. 8 simple ways to help preschoolers develop self-control

Preschoolers with good self-control have a better chance of growing up to become healthy, wealthy and crime-free. Here are 8 simple ways teachers can improve children’s self-control – and make classrooms more harmonious.
You may have heard of the well known marshmallow test – the Stanford University experiment that discovered young children who could show restraint in the face of temptation tended to do better in school and, later, in life.
Now a pioneering long-term study has confirmed that self-control is a key to future success.
The study, which has followed the lives of every child born in the New Zealand city of Dunedin in 1972-73, found that children with more self-discipline are more likely to be healthier and wealthier as adults, and less likely to be involved in crime.
“Our 40-year study of 1,000 children revealed that childhood self-control strongly predicts adult success, in people of high or low intelligence, in rich or poor.”
The good news is that even small improvements in self-control can make a big difference to adult outcomes. And the best time to make those improvements? When children are at preschool.
Professor Terrie Moffitt, part of an international team of researchers who analysed the findings of the Dunedin study, says children who had low self-control when tested at the age of three were more likely as adults to have:
Poor self control can lead to unhappy outcomes!
Poor self control can lead to unhappy outcomes!
  • health problems
  • addictions
  • financial problems
  • trouble managing their money
  • a criminal record.

Signs to watch for 

Problems for children with poor self-control started to show when they were teens. Many started smoking early, had an unplanned baby and left school with no qualifications.
However, Professor Moffitt says children whose self-control improved over time tended to have better lives as adults than initially predicted.
“Self-control can change,” she says.
“This is a highly uplifting message. Not only could the most vulnerable children have a better chance at a happy and healthy life, but there is potential for across-the-board benefits in personal, social and economic well-being.”
So what is self-control? Here are some of the signs that the Dunedin researchers say point to a lack of self-control.

9 signs of poor self-control

  1. Flying off the handle
  2. Can’t tolerate feeling frustrated
  3. Short attention span
  4. Easily distracted
  5. Restless
  6. Overactive
  7. Poor impulse control
  8. Acting without thinking
  9. Difficulty waiting or taking turns
Encouraging children to be independent and to persevere helps develop self-control
Encouraging children to be independent and to persevere helps develop self-control
The Dunedin researchers say there are many promising programs to improve young children’s self-control.
Learning music, a martial art or a new language can be helpful, as can programs that involve teachers encouraging children to “plan, do, then review”. But there are even simpler methods.

Improving self-control

8 simple activities that increase self-control

  • Encourage dress-ups. Cooperative pretend play develops children’s self-awareness, self-discipline and ability to empathize with others.
  • Try yoga or meditation. In one study, preschoolers who followed a program of simple yoga and meditation exercises for 10-30 minutes a day over six months were less impulsive and better at waiting.
  • Give children independent tasks. Encouraging preschoolers to take on tasks without a teacher’s help shows them how rewarding it can be to persevere with challenges.
Promoting hobbies and playing games will help increase self-control
Promoting hobbies and playing games will help increase self-control
  • Promote hobbies. Whether it’s collecting baseball cards, making crafts or learning facts about dinosaurs, hobbies encourage children to set goals and develop concentration.
  • Play games. Rule-based games like Snap, Jenga, Simon Says and Red Light/Green Light teach children to delay gratification and control their impulses.
  • Offer children a choice between a treat now or a better treat later. If children can be helped to imagine the future goal, they are more likely to be able to control their impulses. And each victory over temptation strengthens a child’s self-control skills.
  • Praise effort rather than results. Instead of congratulating children on their achievements, say how impressed you are that they kept on trying until they succeeded.
  • Model self-control – in yourself and others. Research found that preschoolers who watched a video of Cookie Monster controlling his desire to eat a bowl of chocolate chip cookies were able to wait four minutes longer than children who watched a different Sesame Street video. As Cookie Monster says, “Me want it. But me wait.”

Impact on teachers

Helping preschoolers develop self-control has benefits for teachers as well as children – not least because children who can control their emotions, take turns and think before they act are easier to teach.
One longitudinal study of twins found children with low self-control can sap teacher’s energy for teaching other children, and may even lower their job satisfaction.

However, even self-control can be taken too far.

Walter Mischel, the psychologist who led the marshmallow test, has stressed in interviews that it’s important to strike a balance between being striving for long-term goals and taking the time to enjoy the moment.


You can read more about the ground-breaking Dunedin study here:
Including access the many research articles about early childhood:
A full transcript of Professor Terrie Moffitt’s lecture on this subject is available here: