Hear Today, Score Tomorrow

by Robert Pondiscio
August 23rd, 2011

Hearing rich, sophisticated language in preschool continues to pay dividends for kids years later–with effects showing up on reading comprehension and word recognition tests in 4th grade. 

That’s according to study in the journal Child Development digested on the website futurity.org.  David Dickinson, professor of education at Vanderbilt University, and Michelle Porche of Wellesley College looked at the language experiences of children from low-income homes when they were in preschool and found “robust relations between early classroom support for language and later language and reading ability.”

“The frequency of sophisticated vocabulary use during informal conversations predicted children’s kindergarten vocabulary, which correlated with fourth grade word reading. The teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary also correlated with children’s kindergarten print ability, and through that word reading skill, the early vocabulary exposure indirectly affected fourth grade reading comprehension.”

The takeaway?  “We need to take very seriously the importance of teaching language in the preschool years,” says Dickinson.  We pretty much knew this already, but it never hurts to have more evidence. Likewise, it’s not news that the  principal cause of the achievement gap is a language gap.  The implications of this research are that oral language matters a lot, and that effective use of school time, if started soon enough, can mitigate some of the worst effects of the achievement gap. If a child from a relatively language-poor, low-income home is exposed to a rich verbal environment from the earliest days of school (a key rationale for the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, by the way) with quality preschool followed up by a strong, rich kindergarten and elementary education, the gap-closing results can–and should be–pronounced.

BFF = Best Friends Forbidden

by Robert Pondiscio
June 17th, 2010

Some educators and other professionals who work with children are discouraging children from having best friends in favor of encouraging kids to socialize as a group.  Some school officials don’t like to see kids pairing off and are intent on “discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity” because of concerns about cliques and bullying.  “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis tells the New York Times. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.” Says the paper:

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

Somebody who knows more about child rearing and psychology (paging Dan Willingham!) is going to have to weigh in here.  I’m out of my depth, but intuitively this sounds not only odd and an overreaction, but a needlessly meddlesome intrusion into children’s lives.  Best friends are bad for kids?  Seriously??

Turn It Off

by Robert Pondiscio
July 15th, 2008

Even having a TV on in the background may be bad for kids, a new study in Child Development shows.  Having a TV on in the room cut by half the amount of time very young children played and focused on a given toy.

When the TV was on, kids of all ages played with a given toy — a jack-in-the-box, a baby doll, blocks, a toy telephone, a school bus with toy passengers — for about 30 seconds, on average. Without TV, it was 60 seconds,” writes USA Today ed reporter Greg Toppo.  “Researchers say solitary play, especially with toys, offers many benefits. It allows children to practice planning ahead and develop cognitive skills.”