A child’s early years lay the foundation for future learning and success. High quality early education can help even those children who may start school at a disadvantage to develop necessary academic skills.
James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and one of the leading experts on early childhood education, presented a paper at the 2014 American Associations for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting. Heckman’s research highlighted the fact that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have less developed cognitive and non-cognitive skills by the time they start pre-k and kindergarten. The lack in basic skills can often be traced, in part, to adverse early environments.
Researchers have found that the quality and quantity of time spent talking with children is crucial to the early development of language and cognitive abilities. For example, a study found that mothers who spoke thousands of words a day to their infants facilitated their child’s language growth, compared to mothers who only spoke around 600 words per day. They suggest that infants who hear more ‘grown-up talk’ have increased opportunities to interpret language and learn new words.
This type of vocabulary and language gap undermines their performance in school. However, early childhood education programs can account for some of the differences. Therefore, focusing on the early years is crucial while change is still possible.
Non-cognitive skills are also important in children’s future success and academic performance. Those skills include: attentiveness, motivation, self-confidence, and attitude. Therefore, children who fall behind their peers academically may also develop lower self-esteem which can affect their success.
Furthermore, how well children learn and develop not only affects their success in school, but also their physical and mental well-being. Parents can help young children become better learners by ensuring early education programs support their development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.
StepUP facilitates Learning through Movement, an approach based on neuroscience research on the way neural networks are created and strengthened. By combining rhythmic exercise with academic drills, students achieve greater fluency in essential reading skills. For example, students do fast picture naming and rhyming as they exercise. On-time naming is an important visual-verbal processing skill that indicates mastery of new words and their meanings. Furthermore, children who perform StepUp exercises develop better coordinated eye movements. Eye teaming (skills controlling how we use and aim our eyes together) are essential for seeing visual detail and for tracking left/right through rows of print while reading. At home, instead of saying, “Sound it out” parents can help by using the following prompts when reading with their children:
- “Let’s try the first sound.”
- “Let’s look at the picture.”
- “What makes sense?”
- “Let’s put it into chunks” by pointing out smaller words in the bigger one.
- “Let’s reread” to get a running start from the beginning of the sentence.
- “Close your eyes. Now open and look again” to see if his brain recognizes it as a sight word, without trying to sound it out.