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Archive for the ‘Cognitive development’ Category

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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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Last week, NIEER — the National Institute for Early Education Research — wrapped up a two-week blog forum on the importance of play in early childhood education.

In these blog posts, experts consider the tension that can arise between academics and play. NIEER’s inaugural post explains, “Concerns about whether preschool and kindergarten have become too stressful and regimented are met head on with concerns that they are academically weak and fail to cognitively challenge children.”

The posts are meant to be “valuable resources as parents, teachers, and policymakers strive to ensure play has its place in pre-K.”

In addition to the blogs, NIEER has posted a recommended reading list “to keep the conversation going.”

What the Blogs Say

In a blog post titled “Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies,” University of Denver professors Douglas H. Clements and Julie Sarama write, “Let’s stop the cycle of ‘abuse’—or at least confusion—that stems from false dichotomies in early education. ‘Play vs. academics’ is arguably the main one. Of course children should play. But this does not mean they should not learn, and even play, with mathematics.” (more…)

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Source: Child Trends

Hillary Clinton has spent decades pounding the podium on behalf of children. Now the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has asked her and other notable figures to share their favorite graphs of the year and explain why they chose them. Clinton’s choice highlights the power of adult interactions with children.

Why ask for a favorite graph? Wonkblog essentially says it’s joining the crowd: “Time has its ‘Person of the Year.’ Amazon has its books of the year. Pretty Much Amazing has its mixtapes of the year.” For Wonkblog, the subject is graphs that illustrate important issues in public policy.

Clinton’s favorite graph is titled “Percentage of Children, Ages Birth through Two, Who Had A Family Member Read, Sing, or Tell Them Stories Everyday in the Past Week, by Poverty Level: 2011/12.

“We want to help all parents give their kids a good start in school and in life. That’s what this graph is all about,” Clinton writes. (more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

The drumbeat is getting louder: public investments should focus on birth to eight – those crucial years when children undergo emotional, social, academic and neurological development that can prepare them for lifelong success.

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation weighed in on the birth to eight landscape in a KIDS COUNT policy paper, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.”

“Behind a toddler’s soft features and halting first steps, an unseen, but extremely high-stakes, activity is taking place – the building of a brain,” the policy paper says. “What happens to children during those crucial first years will determine whether their maturing brain has a sturdy foundation or a fragile one.”

Ideally, these early years of brain development should be promoted through public policies and investments. But as Casey’s policy paper says, in these early years when children’s brains race ahead, federal funding lags behind. Federal spending is at its lowest when children are young; and since 2010, this spending has dropped and could fall to Depression-era levels.

The sad result is that too many young children don’t get the support they need. According to Casey’s paper, “by age 8, most children in the United States are not on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, and many lag in the areas of social and emotional growth, physical well-being and engagement in school.”

Only 36 percent of the nation’s third graders’ score are at or above average on math, reading and science assessments, according to a newly released analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal study. And only 56 percent maintain a healthy weight and are in excellent or very good health.

High quality early education and care programs can “contribute to the healthy development of young children, especially those who are in low-income families,” the policy paper says. “However, 63 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds were not attending a preschool program, compared with 45 percent of their more affluent counterparts.” Rates vary “from a high of 78 percent of low-income children not attending preschool in Nevada, to a low of 45 percent in New Jersey,” where a court order has created more access.

Assessment scores, health status and preschool attendance tend to be worse for children from low-income families – and some 48 percent of the nation’s 17 million children are considered low income. The chances of living in poverty are highest in Mississippi and lowest in Massachusetts.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal analysis shows that “just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills,” according to a Casey Foundation press release, which adds, “This picture is particularly troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development. Children who don’t meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time and are less likely to achieve the kind of economic success and stability necessary to support a family themselves.”

“Fortunately, children who do not receive the stimulation and care they need for healthy growth and development can catch up if they receive appropriate interventions,” the policy paper explains.

What can be done? Casey makes three recommendations:

1. “Support parents as they care for their children.” Good examples of supportive efforts include home visiting programs and screenings for maternal depression as well as improved access to food stamps and employment programs.

2. “Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.” States that haven’t already done so should adopt early learning standards, use Quality Rating and Improvement systems, and help parents make informed choices about early education and care programs. States should also provide voluntary, full-day pre-K.

3. “Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children’s development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children.” Children and families need “better integration and transitions among early education, K–12, health care and family support systems.”

Inspired by the Casey report, MassBudget (the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, home to the Massachusetts KIDS COUNT project) released a brief on the importance of mental health screenings for mothers and children that praises Massachusetts for its leadership in this area.

As local, state and federal policy makers press forward, Casey’s policy paper advises them to “look to the decades of evidence on best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts.”

It is evidence that can be used to “make the case for a comprehensive and integrated birth through age 8 system that ensures all children have a real chance to succeed and contribute to a stronger nation.”

The time to act is now.

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Today is a big day for children and families in Massachusetts and across the country. Strategies for Children applauds Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Congressman George Miller (D-CA), and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) for their bi-partisan leadership in introducing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.  This legislation builds on the progress that we have made in Massachusetts under the leadership of Governor Patrick and our state legislators to ensure that our children have the foundation they need to be successful in school and in life.

Over the past decade, the commonwealth has led the country as we put into place a system of high-quality early education for all children, beginning at birth. Yet significant achievement gaps still exist. Too many children show up for school already behind, and too many will never catch up. Experts agree that high-quality early education has a lifetime impact on young learners in terms of greater academic readiness and improved social skills.

The research is clear. High-quality early childhood education programs are a sound investment. That’s why we’re making sure Members of Congress hear us loud and clear as they move forward with the budget and now this new opportunity — the Strong Start for America’s Children bill.  Please email your Members of Congress in support of the bill now.

The bill has three main parts:

  • Grants to states to expand high-quality preschool, building on their current state-funded preschool delivery system (there are also grants for states that do not yet invest in or need to raise the quality of their standards for preschool);
  • Grants to create Early Head Start/child care partnerships to improve the quality of and expand access to high-quality child care for infants and toddlers; and
  • A call for the expansion of the voluntary home visiting program for infants and toddlers.


Please help us give this bill a solid start by asking your Members of Congress to co-sponsor it.
 The introduction of this historic early learning bill provides an opportunity that we can’t afford to miss. At the same time, as the federal budget is negotiated between the House and Senate, we must fight hard to undo the harsh effects of the sequester and to increase investments in early learning.

Stay tuned for more information and more opportunities for action.

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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: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

Photo: United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

More than 200 people came to the Boston Children’s Museum last Thursday night to attend “Conversation with the Boston Mayoral Candidates – Early Childhood and Education: Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps.”  Strategies for Children, Boston Children’s Museum, Thrive in 5 and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley cosponsored the event along with 31 other organizations.

Both candidates – City Councilor John Connolly and State Representative Marty Walsh — participated, each on stage separately. Candidates answered questions posed by the night’s moderator, WBZ political reporter Jon Keller, and from the audience, which included early educators, providers, pediatricians, college students, professors of higher education, teachers, advocates, and citizens.

As Carolyn Lyons, the president and CEO of Strategies for Children, explained to the audience in her introduction, the forum builds on the momentum that has been fueled by early education proposals from Governor Deval Patrick and other governors,  the Massachusetts legislature and President Obama’s bold proposal to expand preschool programs nationally.

The candidates were asked to come prepared to articulate their vision for Boston’s children and families and discuss what they would do for children and families should they become mayor. They responded by (more…)

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Christopher Martes, interim superintendent of the Wrentham Public Schools, and Carolyn Lyons, president and CEO of Strategies for Children, submitted an op-ed to CommonWealth Magazine recently. The op-ed was published online yesterday, October 23. Here’s a sample of their commentary:

“Last month’s release of 2013 MCAS results generated some good news. Concealed in the results, however, is a hidden story that is cause for concern: 43 percent of the state’s third graders are not proficient readers – compared to 39 percent last year.  Among children from low-income families, a shocking 65 percent lag in reading.  Disturbingly, these scores have remained stagnant for more than a decade.

“The numbers are especially troubling in our 26 Gateway Cities – the large and midsize cities that serve as economic engines. In these cities, an average of 58 percent of third graders are not able to read proficiently, including 72 percent of children in Chelsea and 87 percent in Holyoke.  In Boston, 68 percent of third graders are not proficient readers.

“Behind the statistics are too many children that show up for school already behind and too many that never catch up.”

Continue reading the full article at CommonWealth Magazine online.

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Mayor Logo

This Thursday, October 24, from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., the Boston Children’s Museum hosts a Conversation with the Boston Mayoral Candidates. Jon Keller, WBZ-TV News’ Political Analyst will moderate the conversation.

To retain Boston’s status as an economic leader and hub of innovation in the years ahead, the next Mayor must improve educational outcomes for the city’s children. The achievement gap is evident long before children enter school, and we will not succeed in closing it unless we target resources to improve early learning and healthy child development.

Join us for a conversation with the two candidates running for Mayor and hear more about their vision for children and families in Boston.

This event is sponsored by: Boston Children’s Museum, Strategies for Children, Thrive in 5, and United Way of MA Bay and Merrimack Valley.

Co-sponsors to date include:  ABCD ● Associated Early Care and Education ● BOSTnet  ● Boston After School and Beyond ● Boston Association for the Education of Young Children ● Boston Children’s Hospital  ● Boston Opportunity Agenda ● Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester ● Catholic Charities of Boston  ● Cradles to Crayons ● The Children’s Trust ● Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative ● Ellis Memorial & Eldredge House, Inc ● Families First Parenting Programs ● Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts   ● Family Service of Greater Boston ● Friends of the Children – Boston ● Generations Incorporated ● Horizons for Homeless Children ● Jumpstart ● MA Afterschool Partnership ● MA Association for Early Education and Care ● Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics ● MA Kids Count ● MA Head Start Association ● Raising A Reader MA ● Reach Out and Read ● Room to Grow ● United South End Settlements ● Wheelock College

For more information, please contact tdosremedios@strategiesforchildren.org

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