We are WAY Too Late!

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In a recent week’s National Center for Literacy Education Smartbrief I found, “Sharing Our Practices: Family / School Partnerships Web Event.” You may read this review of a panel discussion about involving families by clicking here.Cliff

My first reaction was that nobody who understands children and learning would argue against family / school partnerships. They are an essential feature of creating a maximum likelihood of success once children enter school.

I am concerned however, that schools continue to follow the pattern of building hospitals at the bottoms of cliffs instead of building fences across the tops. Not that such “hospitals” aren’t needed sometimes for children who fail to thrive in school, but these infirmaries should be dedicated for problems that cannot be avoided, not for problems that could be largely eliminated with adequate planning and focus. Of late the news has been full of clear paths to eliminate this special kind of “carnage.”

  1. The “window” for enhancing child development is fully open only during early childhood. 90 Percent of a child’s brain growth occurs by age 5… fully 70% by age 3!
  2. The parts of the brain that are stimulated during those irreplaceable five years are the parts that grow and develop most robustly.
  3. The parts of the brain that are not stimulated fail to grow at all, then over time, atrophy and virtually disappear.
  4. The two areas of intellectual growth that create the foundations for success in all others are: strong language learning and complex problem solving.
  5. Virtually everything that children need to know to regarding language and thinking that prepares them for smashing success in primary education can be learned through playful interactions at home and in the community. This can be accomplished through casual and delightful conversation about every day matters, with adults who love them.
  6. All parents, even those most in need of help from professional educators, want their children to succeed in school. Too many moms and dads just don’t know how to give their babies the help needed in those all-important five years prior to formal schooling.
  7. Even hard-nosed economists have determined that far and away the best time to spend money on education is in these early childhood years.

Despite these evident truths, those five years are continually squandered by well-meaning but unknowing parents and too many children come to school with brains, avoidably starved for language stimulation, and unaccustomed to thinking deeply and expressing themselves fully. At age 5, gleefully hopping into their first day of Kindergarten, these children find themselves lying at the bottom of the cliff they never saw.

Given what we know, policymakers could productively spend more time focused on creating a fence of support for parents of preschoolers than worrying about building “hospitals” to stem the flow of school failures and drop outs.

If schools spent time and very little money guiding new parents to read with their children every day, to talk and play with them wherever the family goes, to answer their questions fully and honestly and to encourage their self-expression about life and living, then schools would be well on the way to eliminating the ever-growing number of children that are identified for “catch up” help on day one of Kindergarten, and sadly, who are likely to remain in catch-up mode throughout their academic careers.



2 Responses to “We are WAY Too Late!”

  1. Rachel Skrlac Lo February 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    How do you feel about the increasing emphasis placed on STEM especially as students get older and what relevance does this have to early literacy efforts? I am curious about the moment we shift the focus from learning to read is essential (as are the nurturing of literacy skills) to students need STEM proficiency (and by default not Language Arts) if they are to compete on a global stage. This shift seems to indicate a greater disconnect but where and with whom is unclear to me. I see this in so much of the discourse and literature around the purpose of education, especially with parents, administrators, and board members, and I’d love to know your thoughts.

  2. Mark Condon February 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi Rachel!
    Well, to set the stage here, our little library of free, narrated picture books for new readers at http://www.UniteforLiteracy.com have mostly STEAM content. (I like the A for Arts in STEAM). We did that to make the books as relevant as possible to children from around the world. STEAM content for little kids is timeless and almost always fascinating to them. THAT should be a good thing regardless of the twists and turns that local and national curricula may take over time.
    In my view, early literacy efforts should be focused on leading children to love reading and books. Period. Nobody has a clue as to what “competition on the global stage” will be like a decade from now, anyway. So, if we can help them to love reading and books and support them throughout school to be engaged readers of self-selected books, they’ll be fine in the long run.
    Mark C.