Volume 5, Issue 18

October 23, 2006

Hot Topics

Mothers are spending as much time with their children as they did 40 years ago, says a recently published book from the Russell Sage Foundation, Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. Expanding upon work done by University of Maryland sociologist Suzanne M. Bianchi when she was at the Census Bureau, the study set forth in the book uses data from personal diaries that record time parents spent on various activities. Despite the fact that only about 30 percent of children now live in families with stay-at-home moms and bread-winner dads, today's married and single parents actually spend more time with children than in 1965, say Bianchi and her research colleagues. For many who have witnessed the march of women into the work force and rise in single parenthood, this seems counter-intuitive. Evidence suggests parents are finding time for the kids by de-emphasizing housework and cooking as well as doing more multi-tasking. For more information, visit http://www.russellsage.org/publications/books/060110.113159.
Disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool education at higher rates than non-disadvantaged children, but there's a catch — despite the higher rate, current programs miss half this population. Since preschool is able to have a positive effect in areas like crime, welfare and teen parenting, raising attendance levels among disadvantaged kids holds the promise of increasing their social mobility. Economists Steve Barnett, director of NIEER, and Clive Belfield, a professor at Queens College, explore this issue and its policy ramifications in an article appearing in the Fall 2006 issue of The Future of Children. To read it, visit http://nieer.org/docs/index.php?DocID=152.
Disney has announced it will no longer allow its characters to be associated with promotion of junk foods. This year, the company ended a long-running relationship with McDonald’s Happy Meals and Kellogg products like Pop-Tarts and high-sugar cereals. The company says in the future, Disney characters will be associated with foods only when they meet nutritional guidelines. Media insiders say criticism from Pixar Animation chief Steve Jobs about character tie-ins with unhealthy foods and threats of legal action from the Center for Science in the Public Interest may have spurred the Disney announcement. CSPI says it is planning a lawsuit against Nickelodeon parent Viacom on this issue.
The Associated Press reports that with Election Day not far off, Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco have contributed tens of millions of dollars to fight tobacco-related ballot measures in several states, one of which would deliver revenue for state-funded preschool. Arizona’s Proposition 203 would raise taxes on a pack of cigarettes by 80 cents, raising an estimated $150 million in new revenue that would go into a new Early Childhood Development and Health Fund that would in turn distribute a portion of the money to state-funded preschool programs.
Scientist Group Says Public Should Fund Educational Video Game Initiative

The Federation of American Scientists, which developed the educational videogame Immune Attack to teach biology has released a report recommending the federal government fund research and development for videogames that play a bigger role in education. Findings from the 52-page Harnessing the Power of Video Games for Learning report include these:




• Educational games are fundamentally different than prevailing instruction because they're based on challenge, reward, learning through doing and guided discovery in contrast to the "tell and test" methods of traditional instruction.

• Many videogames require players to master skills in demand by today's employers — skills identified by the Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.



Expert Response:

Warren Buckleitner, editor of the Children's Technology Review, agrees interactive digital media, including games, have upside potential as a tool in teaching preschool-age children because they can provide instant feedback, are flexible and empower children, and fostering active learning. He sounds a cautionary note, though, on these fronts:



• The quality of early childhood digital materials varies widely.

• There's been a drought in quality since the year 2000.

• Any teaching methodology or educational philosophy can be embodied in interactive media, but it is vital that designers of technology materials for preschoolers understand child development.

• More systematic thinking is needed to better tap the power of interactive media for early childhood education, both in terms of hardware and software.

• Care must be exercised whenever children younger than 2 ½ are exposed to screen-based media or other highly symbolic medium to ensure that it does not replace time children spend with developmentally appropriate concrete materials.

• Some digital technology empowers active learning but other technology detracts from it.

Calendar

October 22, 2006 - October 24, 2006
Miami, FL – This conference is designed to provide professional development for those working to improve the lives of children, youth and their families.
November 1, 2006 - November 1, 2006
Philadelphia, PA – The theme for the symposium is Transforming Inner-City Education: Can an Early Start Change the Outcome?
November 1, 2006 - November 2, 2006
Indianapolis, IN –Speakers at the Early Childhood Center conference will present aspects of assessment and evaluation affecting state, school district, and individual program policies and practices.
November 8, 2006 - November 11, 2006
Atlanta, GA – This conference provides participants with a variety of sessions focusing on practical experience and applied research.
November 16, 2006 - November 18, 2006
Melbourne, Australia – This 6th annual conference encourages attendees to make a difference in the early childhood field by exploring the place of children's rights in policy and practice.
November 23, 2006 - November 24, 2006
Melbourne, Australia – This conference aims to present cutting edge information on early childhood development and parenting.
December 1, 2006 - December 3, 2006
Albuquerque, NM – This training event will focus on early care, health and education.

Early Education News Roundup

October 19, 2006
The New York Times
Children who turn 5 even in June or earlier are sometimes considered not ready for kindergarten these days, as parents harbor an almost Darwinian desire to ensure that their own child is not the runt of the class. Yet research on whether the extra year helps is inconclusive.
October 16, 2006
The Burlington Free Press, Burlington VT
Vermont's publicly funded preschool programs are slowly growing. For years such programs were largely limited to youngsters who have disabilities, live in poverty or qualify as English language learners. During the past four years, however, some public school districts have broadened their programs beyond at-risk children.
October 13, 2006
The Herald, Bradenton, FL
Only two months into the current school year, 97,000 children are in the program administered by the Agency for Workforce Innovation. That's more than the entire past school year - August 2005 through June 2006 - when 96,295 children participated, also 44 percent of then-eligible children, said agency spokesman Warren May.
October 11, 2006
The Washington Post
The first opportunity for extra investment in education comes when children are young. That's when they are most malleable and when poor children start to fall behind: Even at age 3, researchers find class-based differences in linguistic and emotional maturity.
October 9, 2006
The Des Moines Register
But let's not hesitate any longer as a state to make a serious commitment to free, universal preschool. Funding needs to be predictable and expanded.

Resources

The recently released Starting Strong II report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provides a comparative picture of early care and education in 20 industrialized nations, discusses the policy approaches currently in effect and issues policy observations. The new report expands the number of countries reviewed and presents data from a second round of country reviews as well as a series of thematic workshops. Detailed analyses of demographic data for each country accompanies programmatic information. Factoid: At 2.0 percent of total GDP invested, Denmark leads the world in public investment in early childhood care and education. The U.S. spends 0.5 percent of GDP. To learn more, visit http://www.oecd.org/document/63/0,2340,en_2649_34511_37416703_1_1_1_1,00.html.