Experts Call for Parental Patience, Not Pressuring
Chicago--The growing need for the "re-education" of parents was a message hammered home by experts attending the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children here.
The issue of parental pressure in early schooling was deemed so critical, in fact, that it was the subject of a press conference at the meeting.
At the conference, David Elkind, the n.a.e.y.c.'s president and author of an influential book on the subject, The Hurried Child, said many parents are "putting children at risk for no purpose" by insisting that they begin formal schooling before they are ready. He said that middle-class parents, inspired in part by the success of the federal Head Start program, have placed undue pressure on schools to teach academic skills too early.
The current increase in attention given the early years, said Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, "holds the greatest potential we have of improving education in this nation."
But in their rush to fund preschool programs, he said, states are "ready to misuse this potential" by mandating inappropriate programs and requirements.
To ensure that such programs do more good than harm, Mr. Elkind said, parents must be convinced that "education is not a race."
George M. Sterne, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' early-childhood committee, said the movement to rear "super babies" holds psychological and emotional peril for children. It can foster early school "burn-out," he said, and stifle creativity.
"Parents can best help children learn by responding positively and patiently to their curiosity and allowing them to learn about things as their own interests dictate," Dr. Sterne said.
The experts stressed the value of play in the learning process and said the most important asset parents and schools can give young children is self-esteem. Instead of yielding to demands for formal skills training in preschool, said Constance Kamii, professor of education at the University of Alabama, schools should adhere to developmental principles.
"Physicians don't give shots just because parents ask for them," she said.
The first in a new series of research monographs being produced by the n.a.e.y.c. concludes that high-quality child care depends on a "complex intermix of factors," including family life.
Based on five studies that explored a variety of child-care settings, the monograph provides several "indexes of quality." These include:
A licensed program in a center;
Adult-to-child ratios of 1 to 12 or better and a group size no larger than 25;
Staff members with specialized child-development training and professional child-care experience; and
Frequent interaction with children that is "verbal and educational," rather than "custodial or controlling."
Copies of "Quality in Child Care: What Does Research Tell Us?" are available for $6 from the n.a.e.y.c., 1834 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009-5786.
Preliminary findings from a study of state-licensed child-care centers in Connecticut indicate that government-subsidized centers offered better and more comprehensive services than either private nonprofit or commercial centers.
The findings, presented at the n.a.e.y.c. conference, were gleaned from a 1983 study, the highlights of which are being prepared for publication.
In the study, researchers found that centers receiving at least half of their operating revenues from government sources had the highest ratio of staff members to children and offered a wider array of services, such as screening for vision, speech, and hearing problems, and counseling and referral for children and parents.
The government-funded centers also served a much higher percentage of low-income and minority children--reflecting in large part their eligibility criteria--and had a significantly higher proportion of minority staff members.
In addition, the government centers also reported more frequent monitoring and contact with state licensing officials and more formal involvement of parents in policy decisions.
Directors of the for-profit centers generally had much greater autonomy than those of private nonprofit and government-funded centers, who often needed the approval of governing boards in decisionmaking.
Both the government and private nonprofits allocated more of their budgets to staff salaries and benefits than the profit-making centers.
The researchers--James W. Newton, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, and Sharon L. Kagan, director of the mayor's office of early-childhood education in New York City and associate director of Yale University's Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy--also reported a higher quality of interaction between staff members and children at the government centers.
Government-funded and private nonprofits, they said, outscored the commercial centers on developmental, environmental, and management measures.
The researchers noted, however, that all three center types fell within acceptable standards on most measures, and that all cited instilling self-esteem and social skills, rather than academic training, as their highest curricular priorities.