The search for a preschool and now my daughter’s
imminent enrollment prompt these reflections on early childhood resources, policy, and research – in the New Haven region,
across Connecticut and beyond.
About 70 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. attend center-based programs, while fewer than half of 3-year-olds do.
Studies in Oklahoma and elsewhere suggest the academic among other benefits of preschool, though those benefits depend
on program quality. (See, for example, National Institute for Early Education Research, as well as
other sources cited below.)
We should seek not only safe, playful, learning-rich early experiences for our
own children, but also a system in which such opportunities are available to all. In that spirit and inspired
by reports like this one – which called for “more constructive cross-fertilization among the domains of science, policy, and practice”
– this post aims to connect the personal and the public. Readers may find practical information
about local early childhood resources, along with context for those different “domains.”
My daughter starts preschool in September at Creating Kids, associated with
the Connecticut Children's Museum. Because the program also offers care for younger children, there is a possibility that my son –
not yet a year old – will eventually join her. (It’s unclear whether there will be a spot there
for him or exactly when and on what basis my wife will return to working outside the home.)
We were encouraged to discover that, in contrast to the particular scarcity
of slots in accredited centers for children under age three, there are more options once a child turns three.
Still, decisions are difficult, especially due to the pressures of timing and partial information about lotteries,
waiting lists, and of course costs.
include safety, overall quality, social development elements, pure play versus academic/cognitive orientation, indoor versus
outdoor and physical components, location/convenience, schedule, facilities, experience and turnover of educators, and therefore
salaries and costs.
The rewards of high-quality
programs are evident, as are the emergence of achievement gaps by the time many children enter kindergarten or first grade.
Economists increasingly are making an explicit cost-vs.-benefits
case, emphasizing return on investment:
*James J. Heckman, at the University of Chicago, has written of "Schools, Skills, and Synapses." He and Dimitry V. Masterov articulate "The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children."
*Arthur Rolnick, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, is known for work on "the economics of early childhood development."
Testimony comes also
from expert medical doctors such as Harvard’s Jack P. Shonkoff, who chairs the National Scientific Council on the Developing
Child, which combines scholars in neuroscience, developmental psychology, pediatrics, and economics, and who visited Connecticut
for a presentation in January 2008. Shonkoff’s collaborator Deborah A. Phillips, a psychologist at
Georgetown, co-edited with him “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.”
Counterparts are at institutions
including Yale and its Child Study Center, whose recent work on infancy and early childhood is summarized here, with disabilities such as autism among the concerns addressed. Yale's Edward Zigler Center (formerly Bush Center) in Child Development and Social Policy has extensive links here.
centers beyond Yale include the Harvard Family Research Project, the National Center for Early Development and Learning , and the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Foundational research includes the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study and Carolina Abecedarian Project. A study of Chicago preschools, described in a May 9, 2001 New York Times article “Gains Found for the Poor in Rigorous Preschool,” provides another example.
In the Chicago case documented in the Journal
of the American Medical Association, the preschool program, operated
by the public school system, required parents to participate in children's homework assignments and helped families arrange
health care and social services. According to the Times account by Jacques Steinberg, ''It's more than
just providing basic literacy skills,'' said Arthur J. Reynolds at the University of Wisconsin, who led the study.
''You've got to put parents in classrooms, as well as kids.'' Diane Ravitch agreed the Chicago study was
encouraging, demonstrating “if you have a clear focus, you can improve language and literacy, and have other good effects.''
Further evidence for the importance of involving families comes from the Parent-Child Home Program. A recent ETS summary report, by Paul Barton and Richard Coley, examined “The Family: America's Smallest School.”
In our state, policy, advocacy, and child literacy organizations include:
Connecticut Commission on Children
Connecticut Voices for Children, which regularly produces related reports, including “Investing in the Early Years: A Great Return for Kids and for Connecticut,” by Cyd Oppenheimer. This brief argues for increased “funding for Care4Kids child care subsidies;
adequately funding initiatives like State-Funded Child Development Centers, Head Start and School Readiness; enacting paid
family leave; and investing in professional development opportunities and other quality enhancement initiatives.”
Discovery initiative of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund
Early Childhood Education bureau of the State Department of Education
Early Childhood Research and Policy Council and Early Childhood Education Cabinet, which prepared "Ready by 5 and Fine by 9: Connecticut's Early Childhood Investment Framework"
First Years First, a Community Foundation for Greater New Haven effort
Greater New Haven Literacy Coalition
New Haven Reads and its Book Bank, which offers free books to families and tutoring for kids
Read to Grow
Success by Six, a United Way effort
In exploring waiting lists and various child-care centers’ areas of focus, philosophies,
facilities, policies, and schedules, my wife and I learned about a range of programs, some of which accommodate only children
three and up, some of which also have offerings for children under age three. (We were seeking a program
that might serve both of our kids, three and younger, throughout the year.)
Local resources include the New Haven
Public Schools Magnet Office (for lottery and school tour information) and Early Childhood Office. Preschools
are at Barnard, Daniels, Davis, Jepson, King/Robinson, Mauro, and MicroSociety magnet schools, with information available
in January for enrollment the following fall. See: http://www.nhps.net/magnet/
In addition to the magnet preschools, New Haven offers “Early Head Start, Head Start, School Readiness,
and DSS daycare programs. . . . Daycare and Early Head Start programs serve children 6 weeks to 3 years, while preschool programs
serve 3-5 year olds.” For more information: http://www.nhps.net/earlychildhood/index.asp
Other local organizations that my wife and I have encountered -- far from a comprehensive list -- include:
All Our Kin
The Connecticut Children's Museum and its Creating Kids program
Calvin Hill Daycare Center
Creative Arts Workshop
Edith B. Jackson Child Care Program
Leila Day Nursery
Phyllis Bodel Childcare Center
Yale-New Haven Hospital Day Care Center
Recent news stories are evocative, including the following from the New York Times:
6, 2008 Where the Race Now Begins at Kindergarten By WINNIE HU
“With the recent boom in the city’s under-5 set, the competition
for kindergarten places can rival that of Ivy League admission.”
July 15, 2008 New Vision for Schools Proposes Broad Role By SAM DILLON
“Randi Weingarten, the new president of
the American Federation of Teachers, says she wants to replace a focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools
as community centers.”
An earlier opinion piece addressed related topics.
. . . . .
to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, more than half of the young children in the U.S. receive
care of only poor or fair quality, with care for infants and toddlers notably substandard. (Judith Warner
cites the figure of 61 percent in the December 7, 2006 edition of “Domestic Disturbances.”)
this problem, the “Knowledge into Action” section of “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development” asserts that
"Resources . . . should be devoted to translating the knowledge base on
young children's emotional, regulatory, and social development into effective strategies for fostering: (1) the development
of curiosity, self-direction, and persistence in learning situations; (2) the ability to cooperate, demonstrate caring, and
resolve conflict with peers; and (3) the capacity to experience the enhanced motivation associated with feeling competent
and loved. . . . The time is long overdue for society to recognize the significance of out-of-home relationships for young
children, to esteem those who care for them when their parents are not available, and to compensate them adequately as a means
of supporting stability and quality in those relationships for all children, regardless of their family's income and irrespective
of their developmental needs. . . . It does appear, however, that development of the neural systems supporting cognitive,
social, and emotional competencies remains open to experience at least through adolescence. In fact, the brain's ongoing
plasticity enables it to continually resculpt and reshape itself in response to new environmental demands well into adulthood.
It is important to emphasize that these findings do not in any way diminish the importance of the early years. They simply
remind us of the continuing importance of the years that follow."
Such a balanced, reasoned approach can animate efforts to ensure as positive as possible an early
learning experience for every child, without abandoning those young people whose first years fall short.
The New Haven Early Childhood Council has an urgent mission: “All children will enter Kindergarten with the skills, knowledge, love of learning and support
necessary to succeed.” (For additional background, see here.)
Together, educators, parents, and the broader community are pursuing this mission. Yet much
remains to be done, locally as well as nationally not to mention globally, to counter inequities that often constrain children’s
prospects to learn and thrive. Opportunity, prevention and early intervention are needed from the prenatal
stage forward. But it’s never too late to expect more from, and to bolster, a young learner.