Adapted from an online Author Q&A with Heather Biggar Tomlinson, contributing author of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Preschoolers.
Q: What are some general guidelines we can follow as we think about DAP?
A: There’s not one answer to the question - is something developmentally appropriate or not. It depends on the child’s personality, abilities, culture, and family, as well as the purpose of activities and the context of the class. Keeping in mind the five guidelines for effective teaching the following could be the starting point for a teacher checklist, to be adapted for specific programs and children:
1. Did I know everything I needed to know about each child today? Did I notice each child’s mood, apparent health, and general sense of well-being and engagement?
2. Have I checked in with each child’s family lately, either through drop-off conversations, written notes, or emails, to provide updates and receive updates? Are there any cultural issues I should address with a particular family, such asking about upcoming holidays or activities?
3. Did I feel like I had a good relationship with each child today? Did I show warmth and appreciation for each child’s presence and efforts today? Did I acknowledge their comments and behaviors in positive ways?
4. Is there any child I need to have special time with or help in any unique way tomorrow, based on my observations, other teachers’ observations, child comments, or parent updates?
5. Do I know the objectives for children’s learning for today/this week/this unit?
___ For physical development (fine motor and gross motor)
___ For social and emotional development
___ For approaches to learning, including enthusiasm, attention, persistence, and flexibility
___ For advances in knowledge content and mastery of concepts
6. Do the objectives for today/this week build on what we did previously? Do I need to make any connections for the children?
7. Does the classroom environment match the objectives? Does it look cheerful, tidy, and interesting for the children? Do I need to change any of the materials, centers, or wall displays to keep things fresh?
8. Have I been using a wide range of teaching strategies this week, including:
___ modeling problem solving
___ sharing my thought processes out loud
___ encouraging children and acknowledging good work
___ providing new information such as facts and new vocabulary
___ demonstrating correct ways to do something and giving direct instruction
___ giving specific feedback on areas for improvement
___ giving assistance and asking questions to advance each child’s level
___ adjusting the level of challenge (simplifying or adding complexity) to meet each child’s level
9. Have I been using various learning formats, including:
___ large groups (whole class together)
___ small groups
___ play/learning centers and outdoor time when the child can do what he/she wants
___ daily routines (taking advantage of arrivals and departures, snack times, transitions)
10. Have I thoughtfully considered based on children's level of engagement whether to move on or allow more time on this unit/theme/skill? Am I sure the amount of time allotted is sufficient for every child?
11. Have I taken stock of each child’s progress and mastery related to the objectives?
12. Have I made records of each child’s progress through notes from observations, interviews, and conversation; photos; and/or portfolios?
13. Have I observed the child in different contexts and settings?
14. Have I asked the family for information in relevant areas?
15. Have I checked in with other teachers/aides about each child’s well-being and success toward their goals?
16. Have I considered whether language and/or home culture is influencing children’s performance in each area? Do I need to reassess any child in any area or get help from someone else to accurately understand any child’s performance and well-being?
17. Do I need to adjust the teaching plans based on what I know from the assessments?
18. Is there any aspect of my schedule, environment, plans, materials, or interactions with children, parents, or colleagues that I feel stuck on or unsure about? Is there any child I’m worried about for any reason? Have I asked for help yet (from supervisors, colleagues, family members, specialists, or online communities)?
19. Do I feel like I made a positive difference in someone’s life today? Did I smile, laugh, and enjoy the day?
20. If not, what one step can I take to make things better tomorrow?
What would you add to this list?
By: Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
While early educators continue to be concerned about threats to play in early childhood, (see Crisis in the Kindergarten, for example) there is growing evidence that play is not a distraction from children’s learning, and may actually be a catalyst for it. This argument is not new – it was made in the book A Mandate for Playful Learning, among others. A recent piece in the Atlantic, “5-year-olds Can Learn Calculus", sounds like a further push-down of academics into early childhood. But it is less about increased academic pressure in early childhood and more a summary of the ways play supports children’s learning of mathematics. The article considers how play can be used to support children’s understanding of patterns and geometry – areas of mathematics that may sound intimidating, but are engaging for young children.
The relationship between play and mathematics development was also the theme of a recent blog by Doug Clements and Julie Sarama, “Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies,” posted as part of a National Institute for Early Education Research forum “Reflections on Play.” Drs. Clements and Sarama argue that academic learning and play are not incompatible – that it is not an either/or choice for teachers of young children – but are mutually reinforcing. While the argument that play and learning is a false dichotomy has been made before (including this blog post by NAEYC), Clements and Sarama underscore the need to move past the “pernicious false dichotomy that harms the children.” They argue that “Combining free play with intentional teaching, and promoting play with mathematical objects and mathematical ideas is pedagogically powerful.”
This approach to integrating play and mathematics is not new – it is incorporated into the NAEYC position statement on early childhood mathematics, and part of holistic views of early childhood mathematics education (The brief Mathematics Education for Young Children:What It is and How to Promote It and National Academies book Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood provide good overviews of the holistic approach to early mathematics). Still, research, like the study by Lee and Ginsburg, Early Childhood Teachers' Misconceptions About Mathematics Education for Young Children in the United States shows that teachers of young children may struggle with how to effectively teach mathematics. Clements and Sarama give several examples of how teachers can use young children’s play with math in this post, as well as a blog specifically for teachers. More ideas for supporting young children in developing math skills can be found in The Young Child and Mathematics and Supporting Early Math Learning for Infants and Toddlers.
NAEYC Math Resources:
By: Kyle Snow and Peter Pizzolongo
In late January 2014, researchers at the University of Virginia released a working paper with the provocative title “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" The paper amplifies concerns provided by other reports like “Crisis in the Kindergarten” and “What Happened to Kindergarten?” Critically, this paper uses data to describe changes in kindergarten that took place during the early years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
This report compares kindergarten teacher responses to surveys conducted in 1998 and 2006. The analyses validate what we have been hearing for a while now - that academic content and focus has become more prominent in kindergarten. The amount of time spent in literacy activities has dramatically increased over time, with a more modest increase in mathematics and drop in time spent on the arts and physical education. In addition, teachers in 2006 report spending more time on activities that were only briefly taught, or not yet introduced, in kindergarten in 1998.
In this study, approaches to instruction are captured using a couple of broad indicators – the percentage of classrooms that use 3 or more hours per day of large group, teacher-led instruction, and the percentage of classrooms that provide children 1 or more hours per day of child-directed activities. They report that nearly one-third (29 percent) of kindergarten classrooms spend 3 or more hours per day in teacher-directed, large group activities, and less than half (43 percent in the report) of classrooms provide child-directed activity one or more hours per day.
These findings lead the authors to conclude that “today’s kindergarten classrooms focus on more advanced academic content, are more literacy-focused, and rely more heavily on teacher-directed whole group instruction.“ Other findings they report about physical education and use of standardized assessment, suggest kindergartners in 2006 have less PE and more testing than 1st graders in 1998. So, they conclude, “kindergarten in 2006 looks quite distinct from both kindergarten and first grade classrooms in the late nineties.”
What can we learn from these findings?
What is clear is that the academic content, and approaches to delivering that content, changed in dramatic ways between 1998 and 2006. What should we take away from these findings?
Academic content should be welcome in kindergarten but how it is delivered should be examined
Time spent on academic content, and even time spent on increasingly challenging academic content should not automatically be seen as a threat to kindergarten. Children learn from birth, so kindergarten should provide children with opportunities and supports appropriate for where they are. Early childhood education has always embraced the (academic and social and emotional) content that young children need to learn. Kindergartners (and all young children!) can learn academic content that is appropriate to where they are developmentally. However, large group, teacher directed instruction is not the only way for children to learn academic content. Hands-on investigative activities and small group instruction need to be a bigger part of how children take in academic content. Our expectations for young learners are built from many years of research and theory, as well as teachers’ knowledge of each child’s prior learning. As more children participate in early educational programs, it is not surprising that they come to kindergarten with different learning and developmental needs than when children did not regularly participate in such programs.
Maintaining Developmentally Appropriate Practice
Seeing a focus on academic content tells us what children are being taught, but it does not dictate how children should be taught. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) provides the best frame for how to teach young children. Young children learn best when taught using a variety of learning formats, including large and small group work, as well as instruction and play. Some content can be introduced to the whole group of children during a circle time or class meeting. Children can further investigate the content and learn it more deeply via small group experiences in which they play an active role in the investigation, through exploratory play alone and with other children, through one-on-one activities with a teacher, during routines such as setting a table for snack. Some content can be memorized for current and later use (e.g., the names of the letters of the alphabet and their sounds, the numerals that represent numbers). Even here, singing and moving to songs that emphasize letter sounds or involve counting may be more effective than a worksheet or rote activity. The goal is to provide a variety of learning opportunities, not to become reliant on a single approach. There is plenty of room within DAP to include academic content in kindergarten (See NAEYC’s latest book on DAP and kindergarten).
Social and emotional skills are important, but are they built into the classroom?
It is important to note that while teachers’ ratings of the importance of academic skills increased from 1998 to 2006, at both times they rated social and regulatory skills as being more critical for school readiness. This view is increasingly being voiced by educators and researchers alike. Unfortunately, the time teachers spend on building these skills is not captured by the data in this report. If the increased focus on literacy and math is partially driven by standards, then should social and emotional skills be written in to K-12 standards like they are in preschool standards? Experts from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a review of state standards in 2013. They found that 49 states have specific standards for social and emotional development in preschool, while only 3 have specific standards in K-12). While many state K-12 standards include some standards for social and emotional learning within content areas, the report warns, “when [social and emotional learning] standards are integrated into other standards they are often scattered and lacking in comprehensiveness. Typically they are not systematically and developmentally sequenced across grade levels.”
The findings from this most recent analysis of data from the early Childhood Longitudinal studies may be the first to quantify changes in kindergarten over the past decade. But these data provide only a broad picture of the differences, and do not provide ready explanation for them. But understanding ways that kindergarten changed under NCLB is critical as states move to implement the Common Core State Standards. As critics have noted, the Common Core focuses only on English Language Arts and Mathematics, two areas that saw increased focus under NCLB. As a result, without concerted effort, the trends reported here are likely to become more, rather than less, pronounced, further driving kindergarten away from early childhood. NAEYC’s report on Common Core provides a framework for connecting Common Core to children’s development and ensuring high quality educational experiences for all children. NAEYC’s report on Kindergarten and Common Core outlines considerations to connect common core to better quality and more equitable kindergarten experiences for all children.
Helpful DAP Resources
DAP: Focus on Kindergartners (NAEYC book)
5 Guidelines for Effective Teaching (infographic)
10 Suggested Teaching Strategies (infographic)
It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Polly Greenberg (1932–2013), former editor of NAEYC’s journal Young Children and author and editor of NAEYC books about early childhood education, children’s character, and social justice.
Throughout her 15 years as an NAEYC editor, Polly contributed to the cause of progressive social change through promoting educators’ understanding of the role of early childhood education, family, and community—in the home, in early childhood settings, and in the early primary grades.
Polly described her special interest as “the art, mechanics, and interdisciplinary science of achieving through childrearing and education – social change toward a truer democracy- one in which more people might experience fairly comfortable and somewhat fulfilling lives.”
We share with you Polly’s editor’s notes from “Let's Learn From an Inspiring Person! A Conversation With Vera B. Williams, Award Winning Author and Illustrator” published in the November 2000 issue of Young Children:
In this era of "drown them in books" many of you have often heard me voice my opinion that it isn't just books in which children must be immersed if early literacy and love of writing and reading are to result; it's good books with good art.
One way to find the best books is to buy (and get from your library) award-winning books. You'll find that some authors win one award after another - for one book after another. These are the outstanding authors and artists whose work you may want to watch for.
Vera B. Williams is among them, right up amongst the stars of contemporary literature for young children. Quite likely you've run into a few of her beautiful, brilliantly colorful books - perhaps her first book, A Chair for My Mother. Almost always Vera both tells and illustrates her wonderful tales, tales full of everyday people of various sages and ethnicities, doing everyday things that are very meaningful to them, and with lots of affection, extended family, and a lovely childlike zest for life.
- Polly Greenberg
NAEYC will honor Polly’s memory in a column, In Memoriam, in the March 2014 issue of Young Children.
By: Anni Krummel Reinking
The opportunity to attend the NAEYC conference was an extraordinary experience not only for myself as a professional, but also for my classroom and school community. I was able to build great connections with multiple individuals. I gained information and tools needed to present quality professional development to my staff and other co-workers. I gained great information for my administrator. And, I also gained knowledge on developmentally appropriate ways to engage my students in all areas of the classroom from math and reading to science and social engagement. For example, I got more information on websites for tracking, interactive learning websites, and programs that will benefit the students in my classroom. I was also able to gain professional connections for my own research and professional development as an Ed.D. student.
While attending the sessions and networking with individuals, I learned many new ideas and also confirmed my passion and love for early childhood by interacting with like-minded individuals. However, the most beneficial learning experience I had was the hands-on sessions that provided implementable activities that I can do with my students and help the teachers I mentor implement immediately. I learned how to do science in a developmentally appropriate way for my students that will get them involved. I also learned, from the amazing Opening Ceremony by Wolf Trap for the Performing Arts, the dynamic ways the performing arts can be incorporated to help students learn core subject areas.
The most memorable session I attended was a smaller session about incorporating service learning into the classroom to help students understand what volunteering is, beyond raising funds and gathering canned goods. From this session, I was able to gain ideas and begin to brainstorm how I can incorporate service learning into what I am already doing in my classroom. It is important for any student to learn through active service and interacting with community leaders in many different areas.
Next year at the 2014 Annual Conference in Dallas, or at any NAEYC conference, I would recommend that participants plan! There are so many sessions and planning ahead to choose the ones you want to attend is essential. I would also recommend doing some of your own homework. After finding the sessions that sound interesting to you, investigate the topic, look up the presenter, and make sure the session is one that will be applicable to you. But most importantly, do not be afraid to session jump.
This is my second NAEYC conference, and overall the conference is always excellent and always brings great presenters, exhibitors, and professionals from around the world who are all passionate about one thing, early childhood education and the quality our children deserve.
Anni Krummel Reinking is one of the 2013 NAEYC Legacy Annual Conference Scholarship recipients. She is an early childhood special education teacher in Central Illinois and an Ed.D. student at Illinois State University.
By: Jamellah Reid
Attending last year’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, GA was one of my best memories as a professional in the field of Early Childhood Education. I anticipated meeting other professionals in the field from all over the nation, and I did. But I also gained a wealth of knowledge from sessions and brief conversations with conference attendees. This was all very valuable information that I was able to share with my peers who could not attend the conference.
While it was my first national conference, I managed to participate fully and comfortably by keeping some of the following tips in mind:
Plan ahead: There is SO much going on during all 4 days; the best way to maximize your experience is to plan out in advance (the date, time, location) of the events you would like to partake in.
Dress Appropriately: Wear comfortable shoes. It’s a big conference and there’s lot of walking.
Recharge: I carried light snacks and a drink to keep my energy up throughout the day. Finding time for larger meals was a challenge for me. I attended 2-3 sessions per day so I refueled with snacks and then ate one meal at the end of the day.
Organize: I used the final conference program to help me find my way around, by using the maps and layouts of the halls and rooms.
Bring a journal or notebook that has a pocket folder for note taking. The folders will give you room to collect informational brochures, business cards, pamphlets, and everything else you may pick up at the conference. I still have the journal I used last year, which I currently use as a resource.
Lastly, make sure you find time to reflect on your experiences from the conference events. There is usually so much educational information flying around from attendees, presenters, and displays in the exhibit hall. We forget that our primary reason for participating in the conference is for the early learning of young children and their families. The exhibit hall is always a great way to end a busy day of sessions and presentations!
I am looking forward to attending the 2013 NAEYC Annual Conference in my hometown of Washington DC, and learning even more this year!
Jamellah Reid is one of the 2012 NAEYC Legacy Annual Conference Scholarship recipients. She is currently the Center Director for the Georgetown Hill Early School and NRC in Rockville, MD.
By: Kyle Snow
Teachers, family child care providers, program directors, professional development specialists– all contribute to the education of our youngest children. But describing the individuals who make up the workforce serving children birth through age five has been remarkably challenging.
First, the dedicated people who work with the youngest children are counted in a variety of occupational categories (such as child care worker, preschool teacher, or educational administrator) not necessarily exclusive to early childhood. Many who care for the children of family, friends or neighbors don’t even appear on any public lists, making data gathering difficult.
Second, there has not been a lot of research describing the early childhood work force. The most recent large-scale nationally representative study of regulated early childhood programs was conducted more than 20 years ago.
That is why the recently released report, Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education (ECE) Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) from the National Survey of Early Care and Education is especially important as it provides a real window into those professionals and programs providing early care and education to young children before kindergarten in centers and homes.
Some of the early findings confirm long-held views of the field (i.e., largely female, under-paid) while others may be a bit surprising (e.g., number of early educators with college degrees).
Here ’s some of what we learn from this report:
The size of the early childhood workforce
There are an estimated 1 million teachers and caregivers working in center-based programs and 3.8 million home-based teachers and caregivers. About 41% of center-based teachers work in programs that are at least partly publicly-funded (e.g., Head Start, Early Head Start, public pre-k). Nearly all (97%) of home-based teachers and providers who are listed (included on federal, state or local listings of providers) are paid, while only about 25% of those not listed (individuals regularly caring for at least unrelated child but not listed on any public list of providers) are paid.
The Educational Background
One of the ongoing debates in early childhood focuses on the importance of completing a bachelor’s degree. There is general agreement that both degree level and quality early childhood content are critical components in teacher training. Standards for the preparation of teachers are also important. This national survey collected data on degrees and field of study, although only the level of degree attained is provided in this initial report (addressing the issue of the content of the degree must wait for future reports).
Among teachers and caregivers (including teachers, assistants and aides) in centers, 39% have at least a bachelor’s degree (BA). About 19% have a high school diploma or less, 28% have some college credit but no degree, and 17% have an associate degree (AA). There is a striking difference in educational levels based on the age of child served. For those working with children age 3 to 5 years, 45% have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 19% of those working with infants and toddlers. Conversely, 28% of those working with infants and toddlers have a high school diploma or less, compared to just 13% of those working with 3 to 5 year olds.
Home-based teachers and caregivers are less likely than their center-based counterparts to have completed any college degree (with 32% having either an associate or bachelor’s degree). Listed home-based teachers and providers generally have a high school diploma or less (34%) or some college credit (34%). Nearly half (47%) of unlisted home-based teachers and providers have completed high school or less.
While the report confirms the common view that early childhood professionals receive low wages, this report also shows that there is a wide range in salaries.
Among center-based teachers and caregivers (again including teachers, assistants and aides), hourly wages were higher among teaching staff for 3- to 5-year-olds than for infants and toddlers ($11.90 versus $9.30). Teaching staff with a BA or higher had hourly wages substantially higher ($14.70) than those with AA degrees ($11.00) and some college but no degree ($9.30) or high school diploma or less ($9.00).
Striking differences in wages were found when considering education and the center’s type of sponsorship and funding. In school-sponsored centers, teaching staff with a BA or higher degree earned a median hourly wage of $20.60 compared to $15.90 for those in Head Start funded centers, $16.20 in centers with Public Pre-K funded programs not sponsored by schools or Head Start, and $13.90 in all other centers. Differences were less dramatic for those with high school degrees or less, ranging from $11.60 per hour in school-sponsored centers to $8.00 in Head Start funded programs, $8.40 in Public Pre-K funded programs, and $9.60 in all other centers. This suggests that centers that are not sponsored by public schools and that do not receive Head Start or Public Pre-K funding have salary schedules that offer less incentive for higher levels of education. More than half of all centers (59%) were found to be in this category of funding or sponsorship.
When considering the hourly median salaries, the study points out that Census data indicate that the average hourly wage across all occupations for workers with a BA degree is about $27 an hour.
Years of Experience
Despite the low wages, center-based teachers and caregivers have a great deal of experience, with a median of 10 years. As with wages, the mean was found to be higher than the median, suggesting a small number of teachers and caregivers with a very large number of years of experience. Just 23% of all center-based teaching staff have 5 or fewer years of experience. In other words, 77% have more than 5 years of experience. This reflects a stability in the workforce overall (although not necessarily within a specific program) that is noteworthy. Listed home-based providers also have substantial experience, with a remarkable 84% reporting more than 5 years of experience. Unlisted providers were the least experienced, but still 50% reported having more than 5 years of experience.
A striking finding from the NRC report was the lack of benefits (generally health care, retirement, and paid time-off) received by many in the early care and education work force. The importance of these benefits is underscored by a recent study of the health and well-being of Head Start teachers in Pennsylvania.
Teachers and providers in both center- and home-based settings were asked if they had health insurance, and whether this was provided to them through their employer, through their spouse, an individual plan, or a public health fund. Here, the news is positive – three-quarters of teachers and caregivers in centers, and in listed and unlisted home programs reported they had health insurance.
Key takeaway points
The data provided in this initial report are extraordinary. Future reports are likely to be just as valuable. Being able to define the number of early care and education teachers, their education levels, whether or not they have health insurance and other benefits and other general characteristics is critical in defining the profession. Data reported here offer some confirmation of some long held views, especially as to how underpaid early childhood teachers and caregivers are when compared to other professionals, given the importance early learning and their work. These disparities are even more striking given the higher than expected level of educational qualifications and years of experience of many in the early childhood work force. The findings suggest that recent state and national efforts to focus on early childhood professional development have made a difference, and they underscore that investments in professional development are worthwhile because of the professionals’ commitment to remain in the field. The study also makes clear the need for additional funding with a target of improving compensation, with particular focus on equity for those working with infants and toddlers.
Many questions remain that should be addressed in future analyses, for example, how do educational qualifications and salaries vary by professional role (lead teacher, teacher, assistant or aide)? What is the content of the degrees held by teachers and caregivers? How common is specialized content in child development and early childhood education? We are likely to be turning to these data for many years to come as we work to advance high quality services for more young children and strengthen the early childhood profession.
Resources and Additional Information:
Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education (ECE) Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) (2013) Information about the study's methodology
Some technical notes about this study - What you should keep in mind:
It must be noted that the data provided in the report (and future reports) are estimates. This means that they are the best estimate that can be obtained based upon the sample and design of the study. It also means there is room for error – the standard error (this is similar to the “plus or minus” when you hear results from public opinion polls). Generally, the smaller the error, the better the estimate is.
This study sought to include all settings, including licensed and unlicensed center- and home-based programs. It also sought to identify all teachers and caregivers, including those working for pay and those not paid. For home-based providers, the study includes those who are “listed” – meaning they are appear on state or national lists (including licensing, registries, or Early Head Start) of regulated providers as well as “unlisted” providers who were identified by contacting a sample of households directly to identify individuals caring for at least 1 unrelated child between birth and kindergarten entry, for at least 5 hours per week. As such, the workforce this study describes is much broader than in previous studies, including for example, an unpaid neighbor providing care for one child as well as a public preschool teacher in a classroom of many children.
The report makes an important note that looking at the average (the “mean”) wage may be misleading because it can be affected by a few very high, or a few very low, paid individuals. Because the report found that some teachers are paid far above the mean, it uses the median estimate instead. This estimate describes the wage in the middle of the entire population – it is the 50th percentile value – the wage that is higher than that earned by half of the field and lower than that earned by half of the field.
Wage data is provided only for center-based teachers and caregivers only. It is important to note that these figures include all instructional staff and do not differentiate by roles, for example, lead teacher, teacher, assistant teacher or aide.
By: Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
There’s new research on how infants learn language. Here’s why it’s important:
1. We already knew that vocabulary acquisition was important to children’s success in school.
2. This new research tells us that how children process words (vocabulary) is also important. Dr. Ann Fernald, a researcher at Stanford University, explains the concept of language processing in this video and describes the study in this video.
3. Teachers can learn from the new research and adapt how they speak to children.
4. Teachers can make sure to give children time to process instructions and additional time to respond.
5. Programs that reach children very early on (like home visiting services that educate parents on children’s language development) and early education programs can make a difference.
A recent New York Times story highlighted the latest findings from a series of research studies related to children’s language development during late infancy (18-24 months and older). Dr. Anne Fernald has long studied how infants learn language. Her latest findings reveal income-based differences in children’s vocabulary starting as early as 18-months. What’s exciting about this research is that it both confirms and extends what we already know about the potential impacts of living in poverty on children's language development. And the more we know, the more we can positively impact children.
The new research adds to a growing body of work that identifies income-based disparities long before children enter school. In her work, Fernald found differences in vocabulary as early as 18-months of age, with a large vocabulary gap emerging by the time children reach 2-years. These results amplify the results from analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth cohort, reported by Child Trends, which found disparities in general cognitive functioning as early as 9-months of age.
Vocabulary – Size and Speed Matter
Fernald’s research extends our current understanding by not just looking at the size of children’s vocabulary, but how children process words in their vocabulary. Consider what it takes to use vocabulary – a series of words is heard, their meaning is interpreted, and then some response (maybe none) is produced. “Everyone come here and each take a cookie” requires some pretty good vocabulary skills. Each child needs to figure out what the words mean, and then process what they mean within the rest of the sentence. Speed of processing is important because a child’s working memory (think of this as the mental space that is currently used to guide activity) is limited in size and duration – if a child spends too much energy and time trying to figure out what a single word means, he or she will not have as many resources to act on that information, and in this case, miss out on a cookie. While we have begun to recognize that the size of children’s vocabularies may differ based upon their family’s incomes, Dr. Fernald’s study is the first that I know of that looked explicitly at processing language. The resulting knowledge – not only do children from lower income homes tend to have smaller vocabularies as early as 18-months, they also process language less quickly than their peers from higher-income homes. The differences are so pronounced that at 24-months of age, children from low-income homes are processing language at same speed as children from higher-income homes could when they were 18-months old.
What does this mean for young children?
As summarized by Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child, early experience affects brain development and lays the foundation for children’s development. We know from a wide range of research that disparities in children’s development and learning related to living in poverty persist and sometimes grow larger over time. This is especially true when there is no change in the nature of children’s experiences. In a recent paper, Drs. Clancy Blair and Cybele Raver concluded that “Poverty presents a remediable rather than a static set of environmental conditions that must be borne by families and children.” In other words, we can change the nature of children’s experiences. Programs like home visiting for new parents can affect the child’s language experience at home. Access to high quality early care and education outside of the home can extend the opportunities for children to learn and develop. Dr. Fernald’s findings that important disparities are present as young as 18-months underscores the need for high quality programming to be available as early as possible - before pre-kindergarten programs which generally begin at age 3.
The research tells us that by waiting to act until children are 4-years old, we have wasted precious time in closing known, predictable gaps in children’s learning and development. We also would have ignored the arguments of Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, who has argued that investments made earlier carry the greatest return on investment (see also this summary).
For teachers working with young children, these findings suggest the need to provide vocabulary-rich experiences for all children. It also means recognizing that children differ in how quickly they can act on instructions or respond to questions. While the differences in processing speed reported in the research are fractions of a second, even these small differences can be important. They suggest using language in ways that allow for children to completely process words and ideas before moving on to new words and ideas. Use short sentences. Also allow all children time to respond. Some of this may be habit – not calling on the first child to respond, for example. But considering that differences in how quickly children react may be due in part of differences in how they process language may provide new insight into their learning and behavior.
Learn More with these Additional Resources:
Author Q&A with Mary Benson McMullen, one of the editors of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Infants and Toddlers – November 4-8
Research on Children’s Language Experiences:
The Early Catastrophe: The 30 million Word Gap by Age 3: The ground-breaking findings from the Hart and Risley study in 2003 underscored the different language experiences children have based upon whether their families lived in poverty or above the poverty line. Their work was largely considered to have importance in describing the differences in children’s language experience when they entered school.
This past April, The Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF) awarded NAEYC member Lisa Janis the 2013 Helene Marks Award as National Child Care Teacher of the Year! "It is such a gratifying feeling to know that everything I have been working for is being recognized! It's so rewarding to know other people acknowledge early childhood education as the foundation of children’s education," said Janis, in the June/July issue of TYC.
The Helene Marks Award is presented to the child care teacher who is selected from among the top ten applicants of the National Child Care Teacher Awards. The recipient receives the Helene Marks Award and the honor of being named the National Child Care Teacher of the Year and an additional $1,000.
We are so excited about the upcoming online Q&As featuring Annual Conference speakers and authors of our books and articles.
These online events feature experts on a range of early childhood topics who answer questions online. These events are free and open to everyone.
|Online Author Q&A|
If you've never participated in one of these online Q&A's give it a try. Think of how you might imporve your practice, solve a problem or learn something new through the information you reflect on in the author's book and pose your question.
Here are some details on the events for the rest of the year:
STEM Learning Through the Arts: Join Akua Femi Kouyate & Amanda Layton Whiteman, two of our Annual Conference Opening Keynote speakers, in an online Q&A on Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts. Ask questions before the conference session and lean how you can find synergies between STEM and the arts in your classroom. - October 21-25
Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Infants and Toddlers: Pose a question to Mary Benson McMullen, professor, researcher and one of the authors of a the new DAP books focused on infant and toddlers. Learn more about DAP and how you to apply it to your work with infants and toddlers. - November 4-8
Class Meetings: Teachers, you won't want to miss the December Q&A with Emily Vance, author of Class Meetings: Young Children Solving Problems Together. Ask questions and learn about how to use class meetings effectively to support positive changes in class and individual communication and problem-solving skills. - December 2-6.
Be sure to visit our Online Q&A page to participate!