A child's early experiences establish the framework for his or her cognitive and social development by creating the architecture of the brain, which in turn builds a child's capacity to learn. The rapid development of children during their first five years emphasizes the critical importance of high-quality early educational experiences.
Research tells us the window of opportunity to develop particular skills such as language, social-emotional development, music and logic concepts will never be greater than during the first five years of a child's life, the period in which a child's brain grows most rapidly and reaches its peak of activity. If such skills are not developed during this time, they may never develop to their full potential.
As a child's first teachers, parents need support in their efforts to provide experiential opportunities for their children. The most significant obstacle that prevents parents from providing such opportunities is poverty. In 1995, researchers reported that by age 3, middle-class children had working vocabularies almost twice the size of those of children from low socioeconomic families. Research also showed that lower socioeconomic children begin school 18 months to two years behind their more advantaged peers, and this disparity widens each year without effective intervention. Pre-kindergarten programs have been proven to close this gap.
Research shows that children who attend a high-quality preschool or pre-kindergarten experience greater social and academic success in kindergarten, throughout subsequent grade levels and in life outside the classroom.
The cornerstones of this body of research are found in three major studies that have shown both short- and long-term positive effects of preschool and early learning on cognitive, social, emotional and economic development. The High/Scope Perry Preschool study in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Chicago Child-Parent Centers study and the Abecedarian Study in Chapel Hill, N.C., identified children at risk for school failure and collected data through adolescence and adulthood. The preschool programs in each study were considered high quality, adequately supported financially and professionally administered.
All three studies found strong evidence of social, educational and economic effects on the participants...
Such findings show there are many benefits for children who attend high-quality prekindergarten programs. These benefits include increased graduation rates, less need for special education, less grade repetition, less involvement in crime and greater employment opportunities and increased wages as adults.
President elect Obama has stressed the importance of early education. Hopefully he will make good on his promises in this field.
When "lower socioeconomic children begin school 18 months to two years behind their more advantaged peers, and this disparity widens each year without effective intervention" it is not at all surprising to find that urban children of poverty in fourth grade reading at levels three years behind their grade. To compound the problem, what kinds of reading materials are available for students who are reading, on average, three years below grade level?