Thursday, March 15, 2018

Grieving Kids Need Guidance
By Naomi Naierman
To both adults and children, grief is a highly emotional experience that includes fear, anger, relief, despair, peace, guilt, numbness, agitation, and sorrow. Children, in particular, can feel a sense of abandonment and a loss of security and control when they lose a loved one. In her book The Grieving Child, Helen Fitzgerald notes, "Children haven’t had many of the experiences life has to offer, nor are they cognitively able to understand death as we do. Thus they grieve without the same level of comprehension of what is happening to them, for they have not had the experience of the finality that accompanies someone’s death" (1992, p. 53).
Like adults, children don’t process their grief on a predictable timetable. Fitzgerald notes that young people may grieve intensely, but sporadically. For them, a major loss experienced in early childhood can reverberate throughout the years as they progress through life’s milestones—birthdays, first date, graduation, marriage, and parenthood.
In the me-centered world of the early years, young children may feel responsible for the illness or death of a loved one. They may think that because they misbehaved or had a "bad thought," they caused the crisis. Magical thinking has not yet been replaced with reality, and unpleasant events like death are seen as avoidable or reversible. Small children may believe that there is something they can do to bring a loved one back. 
Failure to address the needs of young, grieving children can have dire consequences later in life. Studies show that bereaved children under the age of five are more susceptible than older children to long-term negative outcomes, such as depression and pathological behavior. (See Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences and Care by Marian Osterweis, et al., 1984, National Academy Press, Washington DC.) Teachers and child care providers can play a vital role in helping children understand and manage the pain of grief. They can also help parents by communicating what they observe in a child and suggesting coordinated responses to help a child grieve effectively. 
The first step in becoming familiar with children’s grief is to understand the nature of grief at various developmental stages. A child under the age of two, for example, may not understand loss, but will nevertheless sense any emotional changes among surrounding adults, especially after a primary caregiver dies. The child may regress, and there may be a noticeable increase in fussiness and clinging. To reassure the child, every effort should be made to provide structure and affection, if not a substitute primary caregiver on a continuous basis.
Toddlers, ages three to five, perceive death as temporary and find the concepts of heaven, soul, and spirit difficult to understand. When the loved one does not return, a sadness sets in, as well as acting-out behaviors such as aggression, noncompliance, and nightmares. These behaviors may be exhibited in brief episodes interspersed with periods of play that mask the grief. Like their younger counterparts, these children need consistent affection and a daily structure that is as close as possible to their previous routine. 
Beginning at the age of six, children can understand that death is permanent, but they are subject to many misconceptions and guilty feelings. They may blame themselves for the tragedy or fear their own death. Words describing their feelings will not come easily. Common acting-out behaviors include aggression, withdrawal, possessiveness, compulsive caregiving, and phobias. 
As important role models, caregivers and teachers have the responsibility and privilege to help grieving youngsters. Providing safety and acceptance is the guiding principle of an orchestrated response in and outside the classroom. As outlined in Grief at School, A Guide for Teachers and Counselors by the American Hospice Foundation, teaching adults are helpful when they assume a proactive role and take strategic actions. Among the suggestions made in this guide are the following:
1.       Acknowledge a child's grief by conveying your own compassion and reassurance in age-appropriate ways. Explain to a child you are feeling sad and missing the person who has died. Reassure him or her that after you have had a good cry you will be feeling better, and then let the child know what he or she can do to make you feel better. This may be a hug, getting a glass of water, or finding a box of tissues.

2.       Be vigilant; anticipate new behaviors; and provide opportunities for safe, emotional outlet. Anticipate some anger in a child. The intensity will vary depending on the circumstances of the loss as well as the ability of the child to cope and the presence of support. Let him or her know it is okay to be angry, but it is not always okay to do what you do when you are angry. Teach children some things that he or she could do to express anger: activities such as tearing up old magazines, writing on a helium balloon and letting it go, writing in a journal, etc.

3.       Provide structure and set limits—a firm hand is a sign of normalcy at a time of confusion.

4.       Discuss a child's behaviors and needs with the family and coordinate consistent messages. This is particularly important for the issues of religion and family routines. Encourage parents to share what they are teaching their child about death, the vocabulary they are using, and the child’s involvement in the funeral ritual. As a caregiver, you can provide extra support and assistance to the children in your care.

5.       Plan age-appropriate activities designed to facilitate constructive expressions of grief. For children ages six and under, the following activities are effective:

·         Use coloring books with subjects related to death and grief (often available through local hospices).

·         Read age-appropriate books on death and grief (see the resource list below for suggestions).

·         Encourage the children to write poems, stories, and plays based on the characters and themes in books or based on their own experience.

·         Have the children make a scrapbook or poster about the special person who died.

·         Create a memorial with the children, including a ceremony and meaningful symbols of remembrance. 

Understanding children’s grief, recognizing the signs of grief, and learning how to reach out to children through gestures and activities are skills that every educator should possess. Helping young children deal with their losses can be as crucial to a happy, productive future as any reading lesson can be.
Naomi Naierman is president and CEO of the American Hospice Foundation, a national nonprofit organization advancing the hospice concept of care through public education and consumer research. In this role since 1995, Ms. Naierman has been responsible for raising public awareness about the hospice mission, which includes community education about grief as well as care for dying patients and their grieving families.
Grief at School, A Guide for Teachers and School Counselors, by the American Hospice Foundation. (Send $3 and a stamped, self-addressed #10 envelope to AHF, 1130 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 700WashingtonDC 20036.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pre-K Isn't Just Academic

Early social-emotional skills, not academics, may be more essential to long-term success.
By Katharine Stevens Opinion contributorJuly 27, 2017, at 7:00 a.m. 
U.S. News & World Report
Pre-K Isn't Just Academic
There's more that matters.(FATCAMERA/GETTY STOCK IMAGES)
A FEW WEEKS AGO, YET another pre-K study was released – this one showing that kindergartners who attended preschool programs focusing on academic skills score higher on math and literacy assessments than peers who attended less academically focused pre-K or didn't attend pre-K at all.
The study got some big headlines, but its findings aren't actually too surprising. We probably could have guessed that preschool programs that "spend more time on activities emphasizing language, pre-literacy, and math concepts" yield kindergartners who do better on tests of those concepts.
What does seem surprising, though, is that more people aren't asking, "So what?"
When it comes to pre-K, we seem to have forgotten that raising kindergartners' scores on tests of basic academic skills is not the goal of early human development. The goal is helping children develop into contributing, self-sufficient, happy people, from elementary school into adulthood.
And there's no evidence that kindergartners' scores on tests of basic academic skills correlates with – much less causes – children's well-being and success, in school or beyond. In fact, a handful of little-noted studies indicate that early non-academic skills may be much more important to children's long-term success.
One recent study of over 9,000 children entering kindergarten in the Baltimore Public Schools, for example, found that more than half lacked non-academic capacities like following directions, complying with rules, managing emotions, solving problems, organizing and completing tasks and getting along with others – often called "social-emotional" skills – that are essential for learning in a classroom setting.
By fourth grade, the children who had entered kindergarten with inadequate social-emotional skills were up to 80 pecent more likely to have been retained in grade, up to 80 percent more likely to have received special education services and up to seven times more likely to have been suspended or expelled at least once over the previous five years.
Another recent study found that kindergartners' social-emotional skills were highly predictive of their academic, economic and social outcomes into adulthood. Using a cluster of indicators – such as "resolves peer problems," "listens to others," "shares materials," "cooperates" and "is helpful" – researchers rated the social-emotional skills of 750 kindergartners on a five-point scale, and then tracked them until they turned 25.
For every one-point increase in the rating of a child's social-emotional skills in kindergarten, he or she was twice as likely to earn a college degree, 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma and 46 percent more likely to hold a full-time job at age 25. 
For every one-point decrease, on the other hand, a child was 67 percent more likely to have been arrested and 82 percent more likely to be in or on a waiting list for public housing – two decades after kindergarten.
The greater the difference between kindergartners' social-emotional skills, the bigger the difference in their outcomes by the age of 25. Children who scored at the higher end of the spectrum, for example, were four times more likely to obtain a college degree than children who scored at the lower end. Studies of kindergartners' test scores show nothing even close to these results.
Unfortunately, pre-K's effects on children's social, emotional and behavior development has barely been studied. But common sense suggests that being a few weeks ahead in basic academic skills when you're five isn't what's most important to long-term success. Kindergarten teachers, too, tell us the same thing:
I wasn't too worried about my students who entered kindergarten a bit behind in their math or literacy skills… The students that did worry me were the ones who started kindergarten lacking important social-emotional skills [who have difficulty with] following directions, managing their emotions, and getting along with other children and the adults that share their classroom. As a teacher, I knew that these skills were more difficult to instill in my students than the basic math and literacy skills that would be covered throughout the school year.
It makes sense that pre-K studies focus on children's basic academic skills in kindergarten because that's what's easiest and cheapest for researchers to measure. The rest of us, however, should start figuring out what really matters for children.
Katharine Stevens, Opinion contributor

Friday, December 1, 2017

Early Education Is a Game Changer: New Report Shows That Reaching Infants and Toddlers Reduces Special Education Placement, Leads to Soaring Graduation Rates

By KEVIN MAHNKEN | November 16, 2017
Photo: American Educational Research Association
Access to early-childhood education significantly reduces students’ chances of being placed in special education or held back in school and increases their prospects of graduating high school, according to new researchpublished by the American Educational Research Association. The report synthesizes evidence of the lasting, long-term benefits of high-quality preschool programs, which have often been dismissed as transient.
Authors from Harvard, New York University, the University of California, the University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin contributed to the brief, a meta-analysis of 22 experimental early-childhood-education studies conducted between 1960 and 2016. Although previous research reviews had focused on programs targeting 3- and 4-year-olds, the AERA brief examined services offered to children between birth and age 5.
The results were impressive: The programs reduced subsequent special education placement for participating students by 8.1 percentage points, reduced the chances of being held back by 8.3 percentage points, and boosted high school graduation by 11.4 percentage points. Though high-quality preschool is generally thought to accelerate cognitive and language development in the near term, the researchers conclude that its effects can be detected as late as high school.
(Photo: American Educational Research Association)
“These results suggest that classroom-based ECE programs for children under five can lead to significant and substantial decreases in special education placement and grade retention and increases in high school graduation rates,” they write.
Tallying the financial blow of children’s academic struggles, the brief presents a case for greater public investment in early education. The estimated cost of placing a student in special education classes is roughly $8,000, and holding a student back a grade costs about $12,000, according to the report. Meanwhile, each of the 373,000 American high schoolers who drop out each year earn almost $700,000 less over the course of their careers than peers with diplomas.
Although providing excellent preschool programs to the millions of children currently without them is an expensive proposition, economists have recently argued that later-life payoffs — better health, lower rates of incarceration, and higher earnings for participants — justify the costs many times over. In a study of two of the oldest and most famous preschool experiments, the Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education, Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman estimated that the programs yielded $7.30 of benefit for each dollar spent.


Intensive Preschool Programs Can Yield Massive Returns, Especially for Boys, Nobel Laureate’s Study Shows
Yet even as states have contributed millions of dollars in new spending on preschool systems, skeptics like the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst believe that the impact of the programs is unlikely to be retained once they are scaled up to serve millions more children.
Others have pointed to evidence of “fadeout,” a phenomenon by which the positive impacts of preschool dissipate in the years following completion. One Michigan lawmaker, whose nomination to a post in the Department of Education was withdrawn after a cache of his old blog posts were criticized, denounced the federal Head Start early childhood initiative as “a sham program” this month.
“There have been a number of independent studies over the years that have concluded that these program children come to school with no more social or cognitive abilities than their non-program counterparts,” he wrote in one post. “So why then do we continue to pay for this failure?”
But the authors conclude that nearly 60 years of experimental studies indicate clear results from such programs that last into at least adolescence.
In fact, the effects on special education and retention were found to be greater when researchers followed up years later than they were at the end of the early-childhood programs in question.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

New Analysis Finds Long-Lasting Benefits From Early-Childhood Education

Preschool-doorway_560x292blog-Getty.jpgHigh-quality early-childhood programs boost graduation rates, reduce grade retention and cut down on special education placements, according to a new analysis of several other early-education research studies that adds fresh fuel to long-running policy debates about the effectiveness of pre-K.
"These results suggest that the benefits of early-childhood education programs do in fact persist beyond the preschool year," said Dana Charles McCoy, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in an email interview. McCoy was the lead author on the analysis, which was published Thursday in the journal Educational Researcher.
"Given how costly retention, special education, and dropout can be for both individuals and societies, our results suggest that investments in high-quality early-childhood education programming are likely to pay off in the long term," McCoy said.
The findings contrast with other research, such as on the federal Head Start program and on Tennessee's preschool program, that have found that the behavioral and academic benefits of those programs fade over time. 
The Head Start and Tennessee studies, however, examined child outcomes a few years into participants' elementary school years. In contrast, this new analysis took a longer view; many of the studies tracked children into high school and beyond. The researchers found that participants in early-childhood programs had an 8.1 percentage point reduction on special education placement and an 8.3 percentage point reduction in grade retention compared to similar peers. Participants also had an 11.4 percentage point increase in high-school graduation. 

New Analysis Combines Results of Previous Early-Childhood Research

The new paper combines the results of 22 research papers on early-childhood programs that were conducted from 1960 to 2016. The researchers included only papers that met a strict research design—for example, the comparison groups of children were similar at the outset, the studies didn't have a large percentage of children dropping out, and there was enough data to calculate the effects of the early-childhood program on each of three areas researchers were looking at.
Some of the studies included are well-known, such as the Perry Preschool project conducted in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the 1960s, or the 1970-era Abecedarian early-childhood program conducted in 1970s. Those particular programs have been well-studied for their long-lasting benefits to children. But they were particularly intensive, and early-childhood programs don't look much like that any more, critics have noted. 
The new analysis, however, includes newer research, including studies of children attending preschool in some of New Jersey's poorest urban districts; research on children attending a birth-through-5 program in Tulsa, Okla., and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, which enrolled primarily black children from low-income families and tracked their outcomes.
"One of the primary advantages of our study is that we are able to include more than five decades' worth of programs, including recent studies that are more representative of the modern early-childhood landscape," McCoy said.
"With that said, because we are looking at outcomes that are only observable years—or even decades—after children attend preschool, we can't necessarily make conclusions about whether the programs that are being implemented today will show benefits like the ones we observe in our study."
Even so, the early-childhood field is "in agreement that high-quality early-education does work, both for supporting children and for supporting working families," McCoy said. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ashley Rzonca, a preschool teacher at Woodside Community School in Queens, with students last month.CreditEdu Bayer for The New York Times 
Did you attend preschool? If so, how old were you, and what do you remember learning?
What are your memories of the preschool years before kindergarten, and looking back, how do you feel about the experience?
In a May 30 article, “Free Play or Flashcards? New Study Nods to More Rigorous Preschools,” Dana Goldstein writes:
A group of students at Woodside Community School in Queens peered up at their teacher one morning this month, as she used an overhead projector to display a shape.
It looked like a basic geometry lesson one might find in any grade school, except for the audience: They were preschoolers, seated cross-legged on a comfy rug.
“What attributes would tell me this is a square?” asked the teacher, Ashley Rzonca.
A boy named Mohammed raised his hand, having remembered these concepts from a previous lesson. “A square has four angles and four equal sides,” he said.
As school reformers nationwide push to expand publicly funded prekindergarten and enact more stringent standards, more students are being exposed at ever younger ages to formal math and phonics lessons like this one. That has worried some education experts and frightened those parents who believe that children of that age should be playing with blocks, not sitting still as a teacher explains a shape’s geometric characteristics.
But now a new national study suggests that preschools that do not mix enough fiber into their curriculum may be doing their young charges a disservice.
The study found that by the end of kindergarten, children who had attended one year of “academic-oriented preschool” outperformed peers who had attended less academic-focused preschools by, on average, the equivalent of two and a half months of learning in literacy and math.
“Simply dressing up like a firefighter or building an exquisite Lego edifice may not be enough,” said Bruce Fuller, the lead author of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you can combine creative play with rich language, formal conversations and math concepts, that’s more likely to yield the cognitive gains we observed.”

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