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Early-Years Column

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In the ideal elementary school as envisioned in a new book from the Council for Basic Education, children in nongraded units, working informally in groups, read from a wide variety of books, keep journals, and learn mathematical concepts by solving concrete problems.

There are no multiple-choice tests, worksheets, or basal readers; children of all abilities are integrated and provided extra help if needed; teachers have time for regular meetings; and schools are open from morning to night year-round and are attached to centers offering services to meet family needs.

Concerned that children are not taught the complex tasks they will need to build a foundation for success and meet new national standards being drawn up by educators and content specialists, the council has prepared a "curriculum and pedagogy'' for elementary schools.

Tapping the statements and frameworks of national subject-matter groups, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and such states as California, the book lays out an interdisciplinary curriculum linked to specific goals for what 12-year-olds should know.

The model is based on the premise that all children can learn and that teachers should guide their learning in ways that are active, are connected to the real world, and help children set goals and take responsibility.

Besides recommendations on how teachers should be trained and what roles administrators, parents, and the community should play, the book offers a checklist for monitoring schools.

Single copies of "Smart Start: Elementary Education for the 21st Century'' are available for $19 each from the Council for Basic Education, 725 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005; bulk rates are available.

A new videotape outlines steps early-childhood educators can take to be more responsive to children of diverse heritages.

The video, produced by the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development under a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, stresses the need for care that is in harmony with and keeps children linked to their cultures.

Through vignettes of teachers with children and parents, it offers guidance on hiring practices, communicating and clarifying values with parents, using children's home languages, and the classroom environment.

Copies of "Essential Connections: Ten Keys to Culturally Sensitive Care,'' will be available in February for $65 each from the California Department of Education, Bureau of Publications, 515 L St., Suite 202, P.O. Box 944272, Sacramento, Calif. 94244.

The U.S. Education Department has released a guide to help parents prepare their young children for school.

Beside offering steps for promoting good health and helping children develop confidence, motivation, and good language skills, the guide notes learning behaviors that can be expected each year from birth to age 5 and suggests activities at each stage. It also includes a readiness checklist, a community-resource list, and tips on easing kindergarten entry, promoting good television viewing habits, and choosing child care.

Single copies of "Helping Your Child Get Ready for School'' are available for $3.25 from the Consumer Information Center, Department 161Y, Pueblo, Colo., 81009. Bulk orders are available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone (202) 783-3238.

The School-Age Child Care Project of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women is conducting a study exploring comprehensive college-level training for the providers of before- and after-school child care.

"With so much at stake during out-of-school hours, especially for children affected by economic and educational disadvantages, it is shortsighted to place so little emphasis on caregiver preparation,'' said Michelle Seligson, the director of the project at Wellesley and principal investigator for the study.

The project, launched under a $160,000 grant from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, will gauge the need for such training and develop an interdisciplinary curriculum.

The research team will review educational programs for caregivers in this country and abroad and develop pilot programs--which may be linked to laboratory schools--at institutions that offer two-year programs in child development.

Before banning young children from play mimicking the aggressive behaviors of their media idols, teachers should try to lead them "in more creative and enriching directions,'' one early educator suggests.

In the November issue of Young Children, the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Gaye Gronlund describes her efforts to redirect the play of kindergartners enthralled with the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.''

When she saw that her initial disapproval only led to more clandestine aggressive play, Ms. Gronlund began familiarizing herself with the cartoons, interviewing children about favorite characters, and dictating stories about them.

By responding to children's interests and using the "lingo of their play,'' she says, she helped them work through conflicts and sex stereotyping linked with the episodes, explore alternative behaviors, and study other subjects and stories.--D.C.

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