Early Years Column

By Deborah L. Cohen & Robert Rothman — February 26, 1992 4 min read

Preliminary data from a survey of 13,892 3-to 8-year-olds show that a family member or guardian reads to 58 percent of them several times per month or week and that another 35 percent are read to daily.

The findings, based on telephone interviews with parents and guardians, are part of the 1991 National Household Education Survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Early data from the survey, which examined a wide range of experiences thought to affect children’s readiness for school, show that families are more likely to read, do arts and crafts, watch educational television, or play sports and games with children not yet enrolled in school. They spend less time engaged in such activities as schooling progresses.

Children in the study who were not yet enrolled in school watched an average of 3.1 hours of television or videotapes each day, compared with 2.5 hours for kindergartners and 2.3 hours for 3rd graders.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded grants totaling $5.8 million to help states provide care for children with chronic illnesses or disabilities and for those at risk of abuse or neglect.

The agency last month awarded 16 grants totaling $3 million to help states provide 24-hour in-home or out-of-home temporary child care, family support, counseling, and therapy services for children with disabilities or chronic or terminal illnesses, including AIDS.

It also awarded $2.8 million to help 15 states set up “crisis nurseries” for actual or potential victims of child abuse or neglect. The nurseries will also offer such services as counseling, parenting classes, employment training, and drug abuse-prevention counseling.

Babies as young as 6 months old far younger than scientists had thoughts--can perceive the sounds of their native language, a study has found.

Previous research had suggested that 1-year-olds can detect such sounds, according to Patricia K. Kuhl, a professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington and an author of the new study. Such findings had led scientists to believe that speech perception is related to the development of language, since babies understood sounds when they “recognize things in the world have names,” she said.

The new study--published in the Jan. 31 issue of Science---found, however, that babies’ perception of the sounds of their language is related to the sounds they hear, not to the meaning of words.

The study suggests that chronic ear infections in infants, usually considered harmless, may have serious implications for their ability to develop language, said Ms. Kuhl, who added that it demonstrates that the nonsense sounds known as “mother-ese” are vital for babies’ speech development. “This emphasizes the importance of early language experience for babies,” she said.

Children at age 7 1/2-8 who were fed breast milk as babies had “a substantial advantage in I.Q.” over those fed only formula, a study shows.

The study involved 300 preterm babies who were fed through a tube, making it possible to gauge the effects of breast milk apart from the breast-feeding process.

The study, reported in the Feb. 1 issue of the British medical journal Lancet and headed by a researcher at the Medical Research Council’s Dunn Nutrition Unit and University Department of Pediatrics at Cambridge University, also factored in family characteristics, social class, mother’s education, and experiences in pregnancy, labor, delivery, and neonatal care.

At age 7 1/2-8, the average I.Q. score for the 193 children who received breast milk was 103.7, compared with 93.1 for the 107 who were fed formula alone.

While acknowledging the potential role of “coincidental parenting or genetic factors,” the study showed that, even after adjusting for a wide range of variables, “consumption of mothers’ milk was more significantly related to later I.Q. than to any other factor.”

The Harvard Family Research Project has published updated editions of two pamphlets describing the history and progress of state initiatives that combine family-support services, early-childhood education, and parent education.

“Pioneering States-Innovative Family Support and Education Programs” details programs in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Missouri. “Innovative States--Emerging Family Support and Education Programs” examines programs in Arkansas, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Ordering information is available from the Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Longfellow Hall, Appian Way, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

The Committee for Children, a nonprofit group specializing in the prevention of child exploitation, has developed a curriculum to help preschoolers steer clear of violent behavior.

“Second Step” uses puppets to teach children how to empathize, control anger, and address problems constructively.

Information on how to order the program, which includes a teacher’s guide, puppets, tapes, and parent-activity sheets, can be obtained from the Committee for Children, 172 20th Ave., Seattle, Wash. 98122.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 edition of Education Week as Early Years Column