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October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.

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As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.






April 24, 2017

Early childhood investments seem to be paying off

Children are entering kindergarten with stronger math and literacy skills, a recent report shows. These gains seem to be due to investments in improving the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart. Stark gaps still persist between students based on race and socioeconomic status, though all groups have made progress. Behavioral outcomes did not show improvement, and some measures actually declined. The report compares kindergarteners from 1998 to those in 2010.

Researchers said that the gains amount to about 17% of what the average kindergartener learns in math and reading. Schools should take notice and adjust their curricula to ensure that all students are receiving rigorous instruction that builds on what they already know so that such gains are not lost.

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Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Black students saw the greatest improvements, with an increase of 12% to 25% of students deemed “high proficiency” and a drop from 69% to 54% of students deemed “low proficiency. Hispanic students saw an improvement of 10% to 18% of students who were “high proficiency” and a 10 percentage-point drop in students who were “low proficiency.” In comparison, white students saw a 9% gain in “high proficiency” and 8% drop in “low proficiency.” The achievement gap across K-12 education is largely present before students even step foot in a school, so reducing these differences between students should ultimately result in more equitable outcomes later in life, as well.

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Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Students haven’t necessarily been participating in preschool at higher rates, but the authors point to improvements in the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart, as possible reasons for the gains. Other studies have documented improvement in activities that parents do with their children, such as reading at home or visiting zoos and museums.

While academic indicators showed improvement, behavioral outcomes did not enjoy such gains. Students were rated at similar levels as before in self-control and interpersonal behavior, but had worse outcomes in approaches to learning, which includes “children’s eagerness to learn, along with their ability to work independently, persist in completing tasks, and pay attention.” While the cause for this is uncertain, the authors point to an increase in seat work and a decrease in play-based activities for kindergarteners as a possible cause for the teacher-assessed rating change. Others have shown concern that children are losing the opportunity for self-selected activities, which promote a love of learning and social skills.

We applaud the work done by thousands of parents and early childhood educators to prepare students for school. We should continue to make investments in children, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to grow academically in the most developmentally appropriate way possible. We should also capitalize on the gains made in the early years by ensuring that they continue to grow throughout their K-12 education.

Filed under: CPE,Early Childhood,Play,Pre-k,preschool,SEL — Tags: , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 12:21 pm





April 17, 2015

Early education: Profiles from 10 states

Sometimes getting and maintaining a job can be difficult enough for some people in poverty. To further make matters complicated, when these people are parents, they additionally have to care for others, their children, which includes finding a preschool or childcare facility to look after their children during the day. To highlight what some states are doing to ensure high-quality early childhood education, the Center for American Progress recently released a series of snapshots profiling early childhood policies in ten states drawing primarily from the research of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER compiles and releases an annual record of early childhood programs across the United States and aids in providing a glimpse at preschool across the nation. In its most recent edition, The State of Preschool 2013 report explains that across the US, the average state spending per child is $4,026. Keep this number in mind as each state is highlighted in turn.

Additionally, general trends are reported that may (or perhaps should) alert many readers. For example, 31 states throughout the nation have annual childcare costs that amount to more than annual community college tuition and fees for in-state students.

Although these states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, & Wisconsin) differ somewhat in both their approach and the quality of their early childhood programming, several findings deserve illumination.

Colorado:

  • For children 6-years-old or younger, 43% live in low-income families.
  • Colorado ranks 37th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,159/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Colorado state preschool programs only meet 6 (out of 10) of NIEER’s benchmarks of (high) quality. Colorado programs could increase quality by requiring preschool teachers to hold a B.A. degree or having preschools offer at least one meal per day, for example.

Florida:

  • Over half (53%) of all children six or younger grow up in low-income households in Florida.
  • Florida ranks 35th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,242/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Florida meets only 3 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Maintaining ratios of 10 children per teacher or less and ensuring that teachers are provided appropriate training and resources are two ways in which these state programs can improve.

Georgia:

  • Fifty-four percent of children less than 6 years of age live in low-income families.
  • Georgia ranks 28th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,599/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although Georgia meets 8 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality, only 4-year-olds are allowed to enroll in preschool. Opening enrollment to 3-year-olds would be a large step forward in terms of assisting those children most at-risk.

Iowa:

  • Roughly 4 out of 10 children (41%) ages six and younger in Iowa grow up in poverty.
  • Iowa ranks 32nd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,674/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Iowa meets only 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Alarmingly, the programs in Iowa only operate for 10 hours per week, having the programs operate on a full-day schedule would likely be a significant improvement for Iowan families.

Michigan:

  • Every other child (50%) under age 6 comes from a low-income family in Michigan.
  • Michigan ranks 18th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,452/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Michigan meets 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. An example of how Michigan programs can improve is by allowing (and ensuring) preschool teachers at least 15 hours of annual in-service training. Additionally, to address earlier issues related to its limited operating schedule, Michigan increased its preschool program to a full-day schedule. Unfortunately, this resulted in fewer enrollments slot available for children.

North Carolina:

  • North Carolina has 1 of 4 state programs across the US that meet all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks of quality.
  • North Carolina ranks 13th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,960/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although North Carolina has placed a large investment in its youngest residents, it is not without need. Roughly 54% of North Carolinian families with children ages six or younger are impoverished and greatly benefit from having high-quality early education programs. Unfortunately, these efforts likely only cover the symptoms and do not address any underlying causes for these families being at-risk, although one could argue that perhaps that is not the purpose of early education.

Nevada:

  • Fifty-two percent of Nevadan families with children 6 or younger live in poverty.
  • Nevada ranks 33rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,397/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Nevada meets only 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Nevada programs can seek higher quality implementation through ensuring that all assistant teachers have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and by providing at least one meal a day to its children.

Ohio:

  • Half of Ohioan families with children 6 or younger are impoverished.
  • Ohio ranks 21st out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,927/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Ohio’s preschool programs meet only 4 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Significant improvements to the state’s early education system will likely be seen if class sizes are kept to below 20 students while maintaining a 1:10 teacher-child ratio. Additionally, requiring teachers to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) will help ensure that Ohio children experience the best in early education.

Virginia:

  • Slightly over one-third (36%) of all families with children under six are living in poverty in Virginia.
  • Virginia ranks 23rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,752/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Virginia meets just 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Noticeable improvements will likely be seen if teachers are required to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and if at least one meal was provided to children per day. Additionally, Virginia does not serve 3-year-olds in the state preschool programs and their inclusion would serve as a substantial improvement to the early education system, although considerable increases in funding would likely be necessary.

Wisconsin:

  • Forty-four percent of the families with children six or younger in Wisconsin are considered low-income.
  • Wisconsin ranks 29th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,366/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Wisconsin preschool programs meet only half of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. State programs would see improvements by requiring assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent), maintaining teacher-child ratios of 1:10 or less, and offering screenings and support services related to vision, hearing, and health.





April 16, 2015

Soft skills now, strong foundation later

Last Thursday, U.S. News and World Report published an article that I believe is long overdue and is music to my ears. In it, the article calls attention to the contrasts between early childhood education (i.e., preschool) and the education of children in early childhood (which the article defines as children birth to eight years of age). Moreover, the article calls out the education community for the visible distinction between preschool and elementary school programs, instead suggesting that perhaps an integration, rather than a separation would be beneficial to our nation’s youngest students.

The article continues by highlighting approaches that are increasingly considered and used in preschool classrooms but are not on the radars of many elementary school teachers and administrators. Namely, the higher-order cognitive processes involved in manipulating complex information, sustaining attention during learning and task completion, and inhibiting impulsive responses, collected grouped as executive functioning, deserve considerable focus. Within the developmental and educational psychology literature, strong executive functioning has repeatedly demonstrated close ties to both academic and social achievement, including math achievement and social adjustment. Moreover, as CPE highlights in an upcoming report to be published later this summer, executive functioning seems fundamental for some skills that teachers and administrators might be more familiar with given the current climate regarding college- and career-readiness. Specifically, critical thinking, which is a much desired skill that many children and students are hoped to be able to demonstrate by the time they graduate high school, appears heavily reliant on one’s ability to manipulate complex information and to follow through multi-step problem-solving procedures.

Although the U.S. News and World Report article offered several areas in which childhood educators should address (or rather continue to address beyond just preschool), one which I believe deserves specific recognition is that of social-emotional development. Research shows that children who demonstrate social and emotional competencies, showcased, for example, by being able to regulate one’s emotions and to exhibit prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and sharing rather than aggressive behaviors such as hitting and yelling are generally better adjusted in formal schooling settings (i.e., elementary school) and less likely to be held back in later grades.

Looking forward, I am eager to see more articles such as this that highlight just how important processes such as executive functioning and social and emotional skills are beyond the preschool classroom. –David Ferrier






February 9, 2015

High-quality preschool reduces later special education placement

A recent study released on Tuesday shows that children who attended high-quality preschools in North Carolina were significantly less likely to require special education services in the third grade. These findings were from a longitudinal study following children from at-risk families from birth to the end of third grade. Two programs, More at Four and Smart Start, both publicly funded programs in North Carolina, aim to provide high-quality child care to 4-year-olds living in poverty and to improve the quality and delivery of child care and preschool services for children from birth to 5, respectively. The focus on this developmental period of life is reflective of much developmental research showing that significant cognitive, social, and emotional development occurs across this timeframe and thus, it is a critical period to support. Furthermore, educational psychologist Jeffrey Liew highlights that cognitive and social-emotional development in early childhood can be heavily influenced by teaching efforts targeting those skills.

These findings evidence the importance of a high-quality early childhood education. Between the years 1997 and 2010, over 127,000 students were serviced by the North Carolina preschool programs. As reported in Thinking P-12: The school board role in pre-k education, appropriate class sizes, teacher qualifications, and teacher training, among others, constitute markers that differentiate low from high-quality programming.

Although the results from this study are encouraging, it is important for readers to not misinterpret the results. Furthermore, the study uses maternal education (at time of the childbirth) as a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES). While maternal education is an indicator of SES, the inclusion of additional at-risk markers, such as household income and whether or not the parent(s) are employed typically provides a more comprehensive picture.

That high-quality education in preschool reduced special education placement years later in third grade just reinforces the many reasons why addressing issues early can benefit children throughout life. Similar to the foundation of a house, early childhood represents the bedrock of development; when this foundation is built poorly or weakened for whatever reason (e.g., toxic stress, poverty, neglect), the integrity of the entire building is at risk. Through the implementation of high-quality education, these positive experiences can help to “repair the cracks.” As reported in our Research on Pre-K, children who are able to attend high-quality preschool programs, like the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, for example, tend to graduate high school, demonstrate higher achievement at age 14, and earn more income at age 40 compared to those who did not attend similar pre-kindergarten programs.

In conclusion, this study reinforces what we already know: high-quality early childhood education is one of the best ways to support optimal development. This study highlights that when cognitive, social, and emotional problems are addressed early through, children can stand to benefit the most before special education is required.

Filed under: Pre-k,preschool,research,special education — Tags: , , — David Ferrier @ 4:29 pm





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