A+ Advice for Parents

Early Childhood Education Imperative for Young Learners

Q: My daughter is a single working mom with a 3-year-old son. I think he should enter preschool. She wants him home with me even though I'm sickly. She says a child's IQ is what it is and preschool isn't beneficial. She's making me feel guilty. Is it true that IQ is fixed at birth?

A: Overwhelmingly, experts agree that intelligence is not fixed at birth.

As for the benefits of preschool, there is considerable evidence showing positive, long-lasting effects for 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in early learning programs.

Studies also show that while kids from lower socioeconomic groups may have lower IQs than their better-off counterparts, the gap is due to differences in educational opportunities. Their IQs rise as their learning opportunities expand.

Researchers have also shown that children who have had preschool are more ready for kindergarten. They tend to repeat fewer grades, have higher rates of high school graduation, and exhibit more pro-social behavior throughout their school years.

But quality matters. If the educational program is just baby-sitting, your grandson could be better off with you, assuming you're not giving him a daily diet of TV. But if the program has well-trained teachers, is organized around environments where teachers and children interact, and offers developmentally appropriate activities to help him build a strong foundation for kindergarten, then encourage your daughter to register him.

Your daughter may be interested in a recently published paper by New York University researchers Joshua Aronson, Clancy Blair and John Protzko at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. They analyzed hundreds of studies to determine the overall effectiveness of various early childhood interventions involving children from birth through kindergarten.

The researchers discovered that enrolling an economically disadvantaged child in an early education program could raise his or her IQ by more than four points. Preschools that include a language development component boosted children's IQ by more than seven points.

They also found that a technique called interactive or shared reading -- when parents actively engage their children while reading with them -- raised children's IQ by more than six points.

The technique helps children develop vocabulary, knowledge of the sounds of language, and a habit of home reading, says early literacy expert Anne Van Kleeck, author of "Sharing Books and Stories to Promote Language and Literacy" (Plural Publishing, 2006). She suggests these basic steps when reading with your preschooler:

Look for children's books that engage him. Ask him simple questions, such as, "What is in this picture?" Repeat words and phrases. Ask him to label objects and events in sequence. As you progress through a book, ask him more complex questions about specific things in the story. Ask open-ended questions, rather than yes or no questions, and expand on his explanations. If he says, "The boy is afraid," ask him why. Reinforce correct grammar and syntax. If your grandson says, "The dog go home," say, "Yes, the dog went home."

To give your grandson a great start, enroll him in a quality preschool program and read with him every day after school. You'll put him on a path to lifelong learning.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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