Early Years

March 13, 1991 4 min read
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Although American parents are especially attentive to their children’s learning before kindergarten, Asian parents are much more attentive to their hildren’s education in later years, a new study shows.

The study, based on interviews with 864 mothers of kindergartners in the United States, Taiwan, and Japan, was conducted by the University of Michigan researchers Harold W. Stevenson and Shin-Ying Lee. Mr. Stevenson has conducted extensive research on differences in American and Asian children’s school performance and parents’ attitudes. (See related story, page 6.)

The study suggests that parents’ differing approaches to their children’s learning may explain why Asians surpass Americans as they progress through school, even though American children start school with more “general knowledge and enthusiasm for learning.”

While Americans turn primary responsibility for their children’s education over to schools once a child starts

8! kindergarten, Asians “see that as $the time for them and their $!8# children to get down to work on the long process of education,” $8% the study found.

In the preschool years, in $8' contrast, the study showed Asian parents focus more on children’s social development and physical well-being than on academics, believing “they will have plenty of time later for academic work.”

More than half the American children in the study were given books before age 2, compared with fewer than 30 percent of the Asian children, and 85 percent of the American mothers had taught their children the alphabet before kindergarten, compared with about 40 percent of the Asian mothers.

The study also showed Asian kindergartens “place far greater emphasis on socialization and personality development than on academics, while American kindergartens push cognitive skills.” The American teachers spent more time on reading and counting, while Japanese teachers focused more heavily on teaching children to attend to the teacher, speak clearly, and follow directions.

For more information on the dy, contact Mr. Stevenson at the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development, 300 North Ingalls Building, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109.

A mother’s employment may hamper her children’s intellectual development in the first year of and third, another study suggests.

The study, by the economists Francine Blau of the University of Illinois and Adam Grossberg of Trinity College, is said to be one of the most comprehensive to date. It is based on a nationwide sample of women between 21 to 29 and their 874 3- and 4-year-olds.

The study found that children of women who worked the full year after a child’s birth had standardized-test scores about 5.8 points lower on a test with an average score of 100 than those of similar children whose mothers did not work during that time.

But the scores of those whose mothers worked in the second and later years were about 4.2 points higher than those whose mothers did not.&

“The bottom line is pretty reassuring,” said Ms. Blau. She speculated that the benefits of more contact with adults and children in child care and mothers’ higher incomes appeared to “counterbalance” the negative effects of spending less time with mothers in the first year.

But, she added, the negative first-year effects could bolster the case for improving the quality of alternative care for infants and instituting better parental-leave policies.

Copies of a paper on the study are available for from the National Bureau of Economic 8 Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

To help relieve overcrowded < schools and allow city workers to spend more time with their children, the Los Angeles school district is planning to open a kindergarten in city hall. The program, which will serve about 30 children, is scheduled to open in August. The district will supply the teacher, supplies, and equipment, while the City of Los Angeles will provide rent-free space, utilities, and maintenance.

The city currently operates a child-care program for city- hall employees that serves 70 children from 3 months to 5 years old. The 5-year-olds will be eligible to participate in the half-day kindergarten program, while receiving child care for the remainder of the day.

Joyce Peyton, administrator of the school district’s office of priority housing, said the plan was part of an effort to seek new classroom sites to cope with a severe space shortage. The student population, now 625,000, is growing by 15,000 to 18,000 each year. The city-hall kindergarten is the city’s first such arrangement, but the district is pursuing the idea with the airport, hospitals, and other city agencies.

Robert Leininger, superintendent of the Illinois schools, has invited schools to apply for grants to experiment with ungraded kindergarten-to-3rd- grade programs that allow children move at their own pace.

Kim Knauer, a spokesman for the state board of education, said Kentucky’s plan to institute such programs statewide drew Mr. Leininger’s interest, and he invited Illinois schools to try the idea on a pilot basis.

He indicated the programs could be funded out of a 2.4-million school-improvement-support fund that offers grants of $15,000 to $20,000 for innovative teaching approaches.--dc

A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 1991 edition of Education Week as Early Years


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