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Early Years Column

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Almost all children entering kindergarten can button their own clothes and hold a pencil properly. But nearly a third are very restless and fidgety, and about a quarter have a short attention span, according to a government report.

The report released last month by the National Center for Education Statistics details what pre-K children can do and the kinds of difficulties they have.

The study highlights the challenges that teachers of young children face in meeting the needs of children who are developmentally diverse.

It found that more than eight out of 10 children of pre-kindergarten age can identify the primary colors by name, but only about six in 10 can count to 20 or recognize most letters of the alphabet.

Almost one in eight is in less than very good health, and about 8 percent of the children speak with a stutter or stammer or in a manner that is incomprehensible to a stranger.

One of the study's most interesting findings, said Sue Bredekamp, the director of professional development for the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children, was that attendance in Head Start, pre-kindergarten, or other preschool programs tended to increase children's academic abilities but not necessarily their emotional and social skills.

"Since becoming more academic, preschools may be putting less emphasis on what was their traditional mission," she said, that of preparing children socially for schooling. The authors of the report suggest the need for earlier and more effective interventions for young children.

Hispanic preschoolers showed fewer signs of emerging literacy, more physical-activity and attention difficulties, and more health problems than African-American or white children, even when the researchers controlled for other risk factors such as a mother with less than a high school education or minority-language status.

Black children overall fared worse than white children in these developmental areas. But controlling for risk factors such as maternal education, poverty, and single parenthood eliminated racial differences.

The data in "Approaching Kindergarten: A Look at Preschoolers in the United States" were collected in 1993 as part of the National Household Education Survey. The study focused on 2,000 children who had turned 4 by the end of 1992 and were set to start kindergarten at the time of the survey.

One copy per person can be ordered free from the National Library of Education, at (800) 424-1616.

--Laura Miller

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