Early Years Column

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Programs combining preschool for youngsters with adult-literacy and employment-skill training for parents are helping to "break the cycle of hand-me-down illiteracy," according to the National Center for Family Literacy.

The center is conducting two longitudinal studies of some 350 families involved in programs in Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina that bring low-income, undereducated parents and their preschoolers together for classes. The programs are based on the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Model funded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Contrary to national data projecting high rates of failure for at-risk children, first-year data from the studies showed that three-fourths of the children in the model programs ranked in the upper half of their elementary school classes, and that one-third were in the top fourth.

Only 25 percent were receiving special-education services in the early grades, none were retained, and teachers consistently rated parents as supportive of their children's education, with more than half serving as school volunteers.

Copies of the studies or more information is available from the National Center for Family Literacy, 401 South Fourth Ave., Suite 610, Louisville, Ky. 40202.

Promising results have also emerged from Missouri's nationally recognized "Parents as Teachers" parenting-education program.

Prior research had highlighted the effectiveness of the pilot project that served as the basis for the program, which links interested families with home visitors who offer information on child development and tips on how to stimulate learning.

The more recent "second wave" study tracked several hundred families who enrolled in the program in 1986, when P.A.T. was first being implemented statewide.

While some critics had feared the expansion would dilute the program's effectiveness, the new study shows that children at age 3 scored significantly above national norms on measures of school- related achievement. Parents in the sample, which included above- average numbers of families with such risk factors as poverty, single-parent status, and mothers with less than a high-school education, also showed significant gains in their child-rearing knowledge.

The study, conducted by Research and Training Associates for the Missouri education department under a Ford Foundation grant, is being cited to draw support for a bill sponsored by Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri that would provide $100 million in grants for P.A.T.-type programs.

The nation's principals are also urging parents to become more involved in their children's early learning.

In a survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and World Book Educational Products, 98 percent of those polled predicted "significant to dramatic" results if parents worked with children in six key areas.

The survey of nearly 10,000 elementary- and middle-school principals explored parents' role in promoting self-esteem, academics, language development, work habits, stimulating activities, and academic expectations.

Listening and talking with children and paying "consistent attention"to their questions and feelings were ranked as most important by the principals.

Survey results and a booklet offering tips to parents, "The Little Things Make a Big Difference," are available for free with a self-addressed, stamped envelope from World Book Educational Products, Station 9/N.A.E.S.P., Elk Grove Village, Ill. 60007.

A videotape of the same name can be borrowed for free at Blockbuster video stores or purchased by principals and P.T.A.'s for a minimal charge from the N.A.E.S.P., 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. .

The Illinois Board of Education signed an agreement with the state Head Start Association and the U.S. Office of Human Development Services last month to spur cooperation in serving at-risk preschoolers.

The agreement, one of a growing number being crafted by states to better coordinate state and federal preschool programs, is aimed at improving communication between agencies and programs serving children from birth to age 5.

Two new studies suggest that high-quality infant day care can enhance social and emotional development, but a third has found that children placed in full-time care as infants may be more aggressive.

The first two studies, reported by Tiffany M. Field of the University of Miami Medical School at a convention of the American Psychological Association last month, showed that "children with more time spent in quality infant day care appeared to be faring better both socially and emotionally" in elementary school. The two studies involved 84 children from age 5 to the 6th grade.

A third, presented by Alice S. Honig of Syracuse University, surveyed the teachers of 105 preschoolers. Those placed in early, full-time care were rated as more competent intellectually than those who had not been, but they were also rated as more hostile and aggressive.

The finding on aggression was attributed more to such variables as day-care quality and the child's sex than to the length of time in care.--D.C.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 1

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Early Years Column
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