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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

This blog was originally published on October 22, 2014. 

Earlier this month an article in the Vineyard Gazette – “First Step Is Big Step on Path of Education” – looked at preschool on Martha’s Vineyard.

“As a conversation unfolds in Massachusetts and around the country on the value of pre-kindergarten learning and whether it should be incorporated into public school education, interviews with early childhood educators on the Island reveals a similar conversation is quietly taking place here,” the article says.

Famous for being a summer vacation destination, the Vineyard faces familiar challenges in providing high-quality early education programs, including access, affordability, and serving English Language Learners.

“There are no comprehensive hard numbers on the preschool-aged population on the Vineyard, although it is known that the 10 preschools and 18 state-licensed day care facilities can accommodate up to 386 children on any given day,” according to the article. “The 2010 census found that there were 818 children under the age of six whose parents work. This would suggest that possibly there are more children needing preschool and day care than available spaces, although not all the schools and centers are fully enrolled.” (more…)

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Photo: Courtesy of the Milton Early Childhood Alliance

Photo: Courtesy of the Milton Early This bChildhood Alliance

This blog was originally published on May 12, 2014. 

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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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

This blog was originally published on May 9, 2013.

Children’s vocabulary is a key ingredient of learning to read with comprehension, but recent research finds limited instruction in vocabulary in kindergarten – and too little to enable children with small vocabularies to close the vocabulary gap that is evident long before they begin school.

Susan B. Neuman, a professor in educational studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Tanya S. Wright, an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, analyzed observations of 55 kindergarten teachers’ instruction in a variety of school districts. They found limited instruction in vocabulary in most settings, but low-income children were least likely to be taught the kind of sophisticated, academic words that will help them succeed in school

“Vocabulary is a deceptively simple literacy skill that researchers and educators agree is critical to students’ academic success, but which has proved frustratingly difficult to address,” Education Week reports. “By age 3, when many children enter early preschool, youngsters from well-to-do families have a working vocabulary of 1,116 words, compared to 749 words for children in working-class families and 525 words for children on welfare, according to a seminal 2003 longitudinal study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, authors of the 1995 book ‘Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.’

“The consensus among researchers and educators has been that students must close such vocabulary gaps to succeed academically and deal with rigorous content. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

This post was originally published on March 5, 2014. 

A new report published by the Society for Research in Child Development — “Multilingual Children: Beyond Myths and Toward Best Practices” — focuses on “the strength of being multilingual and its benefit for children’s later outcomes and well-being.”

Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the report draws on more than 100 studies. “The qualitative review concludes that multilingualism is an advantage to be nurtured and maintained rather than a risk factor to be eradicated early in a child’s life,” Education Week explains in a recent review of the report.

In the Education Week piece, Allyssa McCabe, a lead author and a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, debunks two myths covered in the report. (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

This post was originally published on November 25, 2013.

“The time is now to redesign this country’s approach to language and literacy instruction, and governors who choose to can lead the charge,” according to the National Governors Association (NGA) report, “A Governor’s Guide to Early Literacy: Getting all Students Reading by Third Grade.

Acknowledging the fact that only one-third of America’s fourth graders are reading proficiently, the report points out that America’s governors can help address this challenge. They can build a bridge between knowledge and action, connecting what researchers know to what policymakers do.

What the Research Says

To provide the research background on the literacy issue, the report points to three widely accepted research findings:

1. “Starting at kindergarten is too late.” Because literacy skills start developing at birth and because achievement gaps show up early, infants, toddlers and preschoolers need effective, high-quality early education and care programs that introduce early literacy concepts.
(more…)

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(Warning: Parts of this video can be distressing to watch.)

Posted on YouTube in 2009, the “Still Face Experiment” video makes its point bluntly.

“Babies this young are extremely responsive to the emotions and the reactivity and the social interaction that they get from the world around them,” Edward Tronick explains in the video.

To illustrate this, Tronick, a UMass Boston psychology professor and child development expert, has a mother interact with her baby using a playful, happy voice.

The experiment? After a moment, the mom turns away from the baby, turns back, and holds her face still: no smiles, no conversation, just stone-faced eye contact. The baby tries but fails to reestablish the happy connection. The longer the baby struggles to engage the mom, the more distressed the baby becomes.

It’s excruciating to watch. But the video shows the power of warm, engaging, and responsive relationships between babies and adults. It also shows how harmful abuse and neglect can be for infants. (more…)

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Jeri Robinson (Photo: Lok Wah Li, Boston Children’s Museum)

This blog about the Boston Children’s Museum was originally published on March 19, 2012. Next week is school vacation week, a great time to visit the museum. Go on Tuesday to meet NAO the robot — and learn about robotics. 

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The Boston Children’s Museum on Fort Point Channel is teeming with children and parents during school vacation week. So it’s a good time for Jeri Robinson, vice president for education and family learning, to lead me on a guided tour of some of the museum’s early learning spaces. On the way, we pass children scrambling up and down the multi-story climbing maze. We pass children and parents sitting on colorful “musical” chairs that each emit a different sound and together can create a symphony. We pass children checking out the blocks and Bobcat in the Construction Zone, all in what is essentially a giant indoor playground for children of all ages. Prompts on the walls and parent tip sheets provide ideas for adults to engage children.

“Our critical message is there’s a lot of learning in play,” Robinson says. “In everything we do, we have a hidden or overt learning activity. Play has gotten a bad rap that it’s a waste of time. It’s not.”

In fact, research tells us that play is how young children learn. Science tells us that the kind of language-rich, playful adult-child interactions that the museum encourages enhance the actual wiring of the young brain. (more…)

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