Archive for June, 2016

Good Habits for Pre-Schoolers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Take Care articles in April 2016 focused on character traits that can be encouraged in public schools and in May 2016 focused on the need for pre-K at public schools. Two program models that enhance the traits of self-control, perseverance, sociability, and others enable children from infancy on to negotiate life in and out of school.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children: What Works and Why, described a project in Kingston, Jamaica, that focused on training for parents and adults caring for children even before they were old enough to attend pre-school. The researchers coached a group of parents to spend more time with their infants and toddlers: playing with them, reading to them, singing and talking to them. Seems obvious to adults with time to nurture their children to understand how to prepare their children for the education world. But it’s not to all families, especially those in which work takes up most of the day and education is not the highest priority. A second group received a kilogram of milk each week.

Guess what? As the research followed up on the children, those who were played with did much better when they reached school age than those whose nutrition improved. They did better “throughout childhood on intelligence tests, aggressive behavior and self-control.” New York Times, “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” May 22, 2016.

If only Congress and state legislatures would see how funds are better spent for a model that coaches parents to prepare students, especially in impoverished neighborhoods, and that would help those children grow to productive adults.

Intervening with adults who have very young children is valuable, but a second program addresses coaching pre-school teachers to overcome stress as well as the four-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods. Those children can come from chaotic family situations which leads to quick anger, inability to follow directions, and acting out. The Chicago Readiness Program developed by Cybile Raver, a professor of applied psychology, and her research team from New York University, trains Head Start teachers in practices to create a calm, consistent classroom day. They pick up methods to set clear routines, redirect negative behavior, and help children manage their emotions. In this research model, mental health professionals are assigned to work in designated classrooms, concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher in a difficult environment. As any teacher wishes, the idea is to be calm and balanced throughout the teaching day.

Again the results of follow-up on the children indicates that those who spent their pre-K year in the program had better attention skills, impulse control, memory ability, and stronger vocabulary and math skills even though the year did not focus on traditional kindergarten readiness.

Professional development to improve pre-K classrooms is one of the most important to improve education throughout K-12 and beyond. The Century Foundation offers more support to these propositions:

“Favorable working conditions for the teacher predict improved academic growth [at all levels], even in schools serving low-income, high minority student populations.” Randi Weingarten, President AFT, “How the teacher shortage could turn into a crisis.”