Child Development Programs
Child development programs are learning environments outside of the home where parents can take pre-kindergarten-age children to receive instruction from adult instructors based on a variety of different learning theories. The drastic increase in child development programs has meant in many cases that children are receiving formal instruction earlier. This comes as good news, because research in the last 15 years has shown a strong connection between early childhood education and the level of success children enjoy in later life.
Keywords Abecedarian Project; Chicago Child-Parent Center; Child Development; Early childhood education; Head Start; High/Scope Perry Preschool Project; Montessori; Pre-school; Reggio-Emilia; Waldorf
Child development programs are learning environments outside of the home where parents can take pre-kindergarten-age children to receive instruction from adult instructors based on a variety of different learning theories. Many childhood development programs address the needs of pre-kindergarten - or early childhood-age - children, whose ages range from infancy to 5 years. Demands for such programs have increased dramatically in the last 70 years, due to the increased prevalence of families in which both parents work. In 1940, 87% of children under the age of 6 had a nonworking parent who provided full-time care. But by 1989 only 48% of children under six had a stay-at-home parent (Hernandez, 1995). As a result, the United States has seen an explosion of new childcare facilities and child development programs since 1950.
The federal government has fueled this explosion with funding. Funding for Head Start, the nation's oldest child development program, shot up from $404 million in 1974 to $3.3 billion in 1994 (Gomby, 1995). In 1992, states provided roughly $665 million for pre-kindergarten programs serving academically at-risk pupils. In 1993, the federal government spent nearly $1.8 billion on child care programs for children from low-income families. To families of all incomes it gave $2.5 billion in tax credits to help purchase child care (Gomby, 1995).
While this trend means that many children have less contact with their parents, the drastic increase in child development programs has meant in many cases that children are receiving formal instruction earlier. This comes as good news, because research in the last 15 years has shown a strong connection between early childhood education and the level of success children enjoy in later life. Since 1990, extensive research has brought to the fore much new knowledge on how the brain develops in the early years. During this time, environment has a much greater influence on the development of a child's cognitive and emotional skills than was once believed. A wealth of new evidence has shown that intervention at this level gives financially disadvantaged children a much better chance at healthy development.
Children's cognitive development - which includes language and vocabulary acquisition and numeracy - begins at the moment of birth. Research ("Good Start, Grow Smart," 2002) has shown that the brain retains an immense amount of information about language during the first year. Before uttering a single word, infants learn the basic sound components of language, what sounds go together to form certain words and the rhythms and inflections of speech. In time, this extends into literacy. Young children exposed to books and spoken language early on will learn to read sooner than children who are not. Kindergartners who lack this background are at high risk of starting behind classmates who do.
To gauge the effects of child development programs on children, researchers have examined growth in the areas of cognitive skills, social skills, language development and school achievement. Studies followed subjects into later years, examining (among other things) rates of grade retention, placement in special education, high school graduation and college enrollment. Among the most significant findings was the discovery that good early care and education programs are effective in improving the development of low-income and disadvantaged children.
The two most important and in-depth studies done on child development programs were the Abecedarian Project and the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project. Both studies tracked and compared disadvantaged children in these programs with a control group of similar children who were not. Children participating in both studies are now adults.
The Abecedarian Project began in 1972 and studied 112 children - ages infancy to 5 years - from very disadvantaged families, most of African-American descent. Subjects were given high-quality pre-school services until age 5. These services included a curriculum emphasizing language development, a high teacher-to-student ratio (1:6 or greater), and medical and nutritional services. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, which ran from 1962 to 1967, gave a similar education to African-American children, ages 3 and 4, from impoverished families and said to be at high risk of academic failure (Barnett, 1995).
Both studies revealed that children who participated in child development programs experienced lasting gains in IQ and achievement in reading and mathematics. Further, both studies found that subjects did better in school: they scored higher on tests, were less likely to be held back a grade or placed in special education, and were more likely to graduate from high school. As young adults, they were more likely to attend a four-year college and as adults, be employed.
This section discusses certain aspects of child development programs with an emphasis on how these approaches are applied and encountered in the "real world." These examples are:
• The Head Start Program
• The Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) Program
• The High/Scope Program
• The Waldorf School
• Reggio Emilia
• Eclectic Programs
The oldest federally funded child development program, Head Start began in 1965. In 1964, the government had selected a panel of child development experts to draft a program to help communities overburdened with preschool children from low-income families. Project Head Start began as an eight-week summer program intended to help break the cycle of poverty by giving disadvantaged preschoolers a program to meet their educational, psychological, social, health and nutrition needs. Head Start's four major components are education, health, parent involvement and social services. Its educational component is designed to meet each child's individual needs and to be in step with the community's ethnic and cultural characteristics. Programs that serve multilingual communities, for example, hire bilingual staff. Children participate in indoor and outdoor play and are introduced to words and numbers. Activities are designed to build self-confidence, self-expression and social skills. Child-to-teacher ratios are low. As an added service to low-income families, Head Start also provides children with medical, dental and mental health services. Since 1965, Head Start has served more than 13.1 million children, ages 3 to kindergarten, and their families. Today the program serves about 721,000 children in both urban and rural neighborhoods in all 50 states (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services: Head Start Brochure).
The Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) Program
The CPC program is the second oldest federally funded program after Head Start. Begun through funding from Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the program serves families in high-poverty neighborhoods. Its objective is to ensure children's academic success and increase parent involvement in their children's education. With 24 sites in Chicago neighborhoods, CPC provides services for children, ages 3 to 9. Most of these children are from low-income African-American and Hispanic families. Like Head Start, the CPC program offers a structured educational curriculum, nutrition and health services, community outreach, and opportunities for parental involvement.
The original four CPC Centers, opened in 1967, were the result of a report done by Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Sullivan on how to improve student attendance and achievement. At the time, Dr. Sullivan's territory - District 8 - had one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Chicago. The report made four...
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