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Archive for the ‘Cognitive development’ Category

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

In “An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher,” Phillip Kovacs outs himself as one of those parents.

“You know, the ones who are constantly checking in, perhaps over protective to a fault,” Kovacs writes in his letter, which ran last month in the Huffington Post.

Then, as if he were at the world’s most uptight cocktail party, Kovacs unfurls his resume.

“In my defense I feel like I know a bit more about this whole school thing than most parents. Having taught kids and now teaching teachers, I have learned a good deal about what goes on in classrooms nowadays.

“There is also the matter of me teaching university courses that deal with educational policy (yuk!) and educational psychology (wow!). Did you know that most of our current educational policy flies in the face of science?”

Stick with Kovacs, though, and you hear something important.

“Neuroscience, for example, tells us no two brains are alike, which makes me wonder why we are trying to make all of the children common.”

And one of the brains that Kovacs is wondering about is his son’s.

Kovacs’ son “can count to ten when we are counting Angry Birds, but he has some trouble with transfer. Everything above 12 is a mystery to him, but he’s eager to discover what goes on up there!” (more…)

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Last week, NPR Ed — which explores how learning happens — ran a series called Playing to Learn, a multimedia look at “why people play and how play relates to learning.” It’s a delightful summertime look at how play engages and educates children — and adults.

Here’s a sample of the Playing to Learn reports.

Where the Wild Things Play

“Free and unstructured play: It’s vital for children,” NPR host Melissa Block says in the introduction to this report. “Research shows a connection between play and kids’ social, emotional, and cognitive development. But playtime in America’s cities is in decline.”

Fortunately, NPR reporter Eric Westervelt finds a stronghold of play at an adventure playground in Berkeley. It’s a “free-range, public playground” where “kids have to talk to each other, problem solve — and they get messy together.”

But as this report explains, “play is in trouble.” Recess has been trimmed. And play is increasingly more structured and controlled. (more…)

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Photo: Courtesy of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Photo: Courtesy of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Babies who babble are actually rehearsing, according to a new study. As early as seven months, those vocalizing babies are practicing the movements they will need to start forming words, Patricia Kuhl explained recently in an interview on NPR.

Kuhl is the co-direcor of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

To do this research, Kuhl and her research team used a magnetoencephalography, a brain scanner also called MEG. Babies sat in the brain scanner, which “resembles an egg-shaped vintage hair dryer and is completely safe for infants,” according to a University of Washington news release, which adds, “The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences was the first in the world to use such a tool to study babies while they engaged in a task.” (more…)

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This post was originally published on October 30, 2013.

In Providence, R.I., educators, parents and community leaders have long understood that the city’s children would benefit from high-quality universal pre-k.

However, the community only has limited resources for serving all three- and four-year olds, so to get to the goal of UPK, the city has to take smaller, creative steps and engage in innovative thinking. Kids Bridge is one example.

“The vision is universal pre-school,” Terri Adelman told the Providence Journal. Adelman is the executive director of Inspiring Minds, the nonprofit program that runs Kids Bridge along with the Providence schools. Unfortunately, there are only enough seats for one-third of the children who are eligible for free preschool programs. That’s why supplemental programs such as Kids Bridge are important.

Before they get to kindergarten, children enroll in Kids Bridge during the summer.The four-week program runs in five schools, and it “empowers children with little or no pre-school experience to rapidly catch up academically and socially,” according to the Kids Bridge website. (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Looking for insights on how to improve K-12 education? Consider the lessons offered by the early childhood education field, Joan Wasser Gish advises in a recently published Education Week commentary called “Four Lessons from Early Education.”

Wasser Gish is a member of the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care as well as the principal at Policy Progress, a public-policy consulting firm based in Newton, Mass. And from 2005 to 2006, she was Strategies for Children’s director of policy and research.

There are “four lessons that elementary and secondary education could draw from the early-childhood sector as leaders seek to build P-16 systems and re-imagine schools capable of helping all children attain the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century economy and society,” Wasser Gish writes. These lessons are:

 1. Expand the mission by engaging families.

“In high-quality early-childhood-education settings, the mission is to serve children and their families. This mission takes different forms in each community, but the federal Head Start program, which serves low-income, at-risk children across the nation, is illustrative: Head Start emphasizes developing relationships with families to support parents as their child’s first teacher and promote positive parent-child interactions.” (more…)

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14359821987_be01fd4731_mYesterday, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of its KIDS COUNT Data Book, a statistical look at children’s well-being.

The report shows that, “Children have a greater opportunity to thrive and succeed in Massachusetts than in any other state,” according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), the home of KIDS COUNT here in the commonwealth.

This is exciting news for Massachusetts, but it comes with an important caveat: There is still much more work to do.

The Massachusetts KIDS COUNT data profile reports that 15 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty in 2012. And despite being first in the nation in education and fourth grade reading, 53 percent of this state’s fourth graders cannot read proficiently. Thirty percent of children have parents who don’t have secure jobs. And while an impressive 99 percent of Massachusetts’s children have health insurance, it’s also true that this state’s children are as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as children across the country.

MassBudget released the new data yesterday at an event hosted by Nurtury (formerly Associated Early Care and Education) in its brand new Learning Lab in Jamaica Plain where Governor Deval Patrick spoke, along with state legislators, local leaders, and Chris Martes, Strategies for Children’s new president and CEO. (more…)

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Photo: Courtesy of Brain Building in Progress

Illustration: Courtesy of Brain Building in Progress

Don’t settle for just commuting on the T’s buses and trains. If you’re traveling with a child, use the trip to help build that child’s brain.

“When you ride the T this summer, you may see this ‘I am a Brain Builder’ ad highlighting teachable moments for parents and children while they ride public transit,” according to the Brain Building on the T website.

That ad is part of a campaign that was launched on Monday by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley – both leaders of the state’s Brain Building in Progress effort.

Brain Building in Progress is a public/private partnership “to raise awareness of the critical importance of fostering the cognitive, social, and emotional development of young children by emphasizing its future impact on the economic prosperity of everyone in Massachusetts.”

Commuters can see the brain building ads on Orange and Red Line trains as well as on several bus routes. They are scheduled to run through the summer. (more…)

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Photo: Courtesy of the Milton Early Childhood Alliance

Photo: Courtesy of the Milton Early Childhood Alliance

On a rainy day last month in Milton, preschoolers and their parents wearing raincoats and boots went for a “StoryWalk,” at Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum.

What’s a StoryWalk? Children go for a walk and stop along the way where the pages of a book are posted so they can hear the story read aloud — or read it themselves or to a younger sibling.

In this case, the book read was “Possum and the Peeper” by Anne Hunter, a seasonally appropriate book about a possum woken from his winter nap by peeping sounds. Laminated pages of the book were posted along the way. The Patriot Ledger has a photo gallery of the StoryWalk here.

Susan Dolan, the director of the Milton Early Childhood Alliance, organized this StoryWalk with the Trailside Museum, and she explains that StoryWalks promote early literacy, encourage parents and children to do outdoor activities, and support the crucial idea that parents are their children’s first teachers. In addition, Dolan says, StoryWalks introduce parents and children to new books. (more…)

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This blog was originally published on September 13, 2012. 

The folks at the First Five Years Fund – who brought us the fabulous “Early Learning Matters” video – have another terrific animated video in their toolkit for advocates of high-quality early education. This time it’s “Brain Builders,” narrated by Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. In the more recent video, Shonkoff uses layman’s terms to explain the complex neurological and molecular interaction between children’s early experiences and the developing architecture of their young brains.

“The healthy development of young children in the early years of life literally does provide a foundation for just about all of the challenging social problems that our society and other societies face,” Shonkoff says. “What we’re learning through exciting developments in neuroscience and molecular biology is how much early experience from birth – in fact, even before birth – how much this experience literally gets into our bodies and shapes our learning capacities and behaviors and physical and mental health. The brain is basically built from the bottom up. First, the brain builds basic circuits and more complex circuits are built on top of those basic circuits as we develop more complex skills. Biologically the brain is prepared to be shaped by experience. It is expecting the experiences that a young child has to literally influence the formation of its circuitry.”

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

“When Luke gets angry, he tries to remember to look at his bracelet. It reminds him of what he can do to calm himself: stop, take a deep breath, count to four, give yourself a hug and, if necessary, ask an adult for help,” David Bornstein wrote in the recent New York Times blog “Teaching Children to Calm Themselves.”

Only 5 years old, “Luke’s difficulties stem from his earliest experiences. Before and after his birth, his parents regularly used drugs. His mother was unable to attend to him and his father was sent to prison shortly after his first birthday.”

What has helped “Luke” (Bornstein agreed not to use his real name) is a program called Head Start-Trauma Smart “that currently serves some 3,300 children annually in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri.” The program was developed by the Crittenton Children’s Center, in Kansas City, Mo., which provides psychiatric services to children, adolescents and their families.

(more…)

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