By Daphne Sashin, CNN
(CNN) - Sure, the audience at Harvard University's commencement ceremony was treated to a speech from Oprah Winfrey, and grads at other colleges got to hear life lessons from a who's who of politicians, scientists and artists.
But those moments could not compare to the preschool graduation performance at the First Family Early Learning Center in New Castle, Delaware, if excitement is any measure.
Each member of the graduating class was assigned to recite a poem or song for each letter of the alphabet to showcase all they had learned that year. ("D" for days of the week, "N" for numbers.)
Five-year-old Chase Winters had practiced his lines for weeks. When it was time for letter "K," Chase, dressed in tan pants and vest, along with a matching blue shirt and tie, approached the microphone and looked out into the crowd. His mom, Danielle, waited anxiously in the crowd.
"K is for kindergarten, we start in the fall; When we started preschool, we were very small; we're much bigger now, look how tall; so it's off to kindergarten in the fall."
"In that moment, I was filled with so many emotions," Danielle wrote on CNN iReport. "Proud that he had done a great job, surprised at how mature he has become, and sad that my baby is quickly growing up!"
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - There's a hilarious episode of the sketch comedy show "Portlandia" where two hipster parents give their preschool age kid a presentation about his future.
The kid, Grover, half-watches as mom and dad pull up two stock market-style charts: One shows his fortunes going up and up if he attends Shooting Star preschool; the other shows what happens if he fails to get in: a plunge into violence, shoplifting and poverty.
"The last thing I want is you out there, you know, shooting squirrels and birds for dinner," says the mom. "If we don't get you into that Shooting Star private preschool, you're gonna end up at a public school with a bunch of riffraff."
She adds: "We're gonna get you into preschool. We're gonna get you into college. We're going to get you some money. And we're gonna get you whatever you want!"
The skit is great because it's based in truth.
Yes, elite preschool admissions are perfectly absurd, but the benefits of preschool are seriously significant. Researchers in North Carolina and Michigan have spent decades following kids who attend preschool and comparing them with control groups of kids who didn't. While preschool, of course, does not single-handedly determine whether a kid will be successful and happy or end up shoplifting with the riffraff, on the whole the studies suggest the early schooling can reroute lives for the better.
The "Portlandia" charts are kind of real.
By David L. Kirp, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of "The Sandbox Investment" and the forthcoming book "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."
(CNN) - Kudos to the president - his call for preschool for every 4-year-old, in the State of the Union address, is a bold and visionary idea. It’s what those who understand the power of early education to unlock children’s minds have been urging for years. It’s what I promoted when I served on the 2008 presidential transition team. But - and it’s a very big but - whether universal prekindergarten really makes a difference in children’s lives or turns out to be a false hope depends entirely on the quality of what’s being offered.
The plus-side first: It takes nothing away from the president’s boldness to note that early education, which used to be derided as baby-sitting, now enjoys widespread popularity. Scientists have learned how rapidly the brain develops during the first years and how much those early experiences build a foundation for later learning. “Skill begets skill,” as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman puts it, and studies of marquee prekindergarten programs show its potential for lifelong impact. Economists have calculated that every dollar invested in high-quality preschool returns $7 - a figure that would make Warren Buffett envious - with greater educational achievement, higher earnings, fewer unwanted pregnancies, lower welfare costs, even lower crime rates.
Parents get it. They are voting with their feet by increasingly enrolling their toddlers in preschool. Voters get it, too. Polling done by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization for children, shows that conservatives as well as liberals support early education. The biggest naysayers are the Republicans on Capitol Hill, but as with immigration reform, gun control, marriage equality and raising the minimum wage, they’re on the wrong side of history.
But expanding preschool isn’t enough. The research shows that if it’s going to have an impact, preschool must be good. Quality costs money, though, and lawmakers have often been loath to underwrite it.
By Leslie Wade, CNN
(CNN) - For years, pediatricians have recommended that young children watch no TV, or as little as possible, because it can lead to problems in school and behavior issues. Now a new study concedes children are sitting in front of the TV a lot longer. However, controlling what they watch can improve how they behave.
When preschoolers watch educational programs instead of violent TV shows, they tend to be more compassionate and less aggressive, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
About 600 families were recruited and assigned to one of two groups. Parents in the first group were encouraged to substitute violent shows with educational and pro-social ones – shows that stressed compassion and cooperation.
Families were given monthly TV guides listing educational programming for their area: shows such as "Dora the Explorer," "Super WHY," "Sesame Street" and "It's a Big, Big World." Parents were also encouraged to watch TV with their kids.
The children went from watching a half-hour of violent programming a day to 23 minutes. Parents then increased educational viewing from about 30 to 43 minutes a day.
Families in the second group did not change their viewing habits.
"This is the first study to try to modify the viewing habits of preschool kids," says Dr. Vic Strasburger, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "That's one of the significances of this study."
After a year, researchers found that children watching less violent and more child-appropriate shows scored better on tests that measured cooperation, a willingness to share or compromise. They also had fewer incidents of aggressive behavior such as yelling and hitting.
(CNN) - For a second straight day, President Barack Obama touted proposals from his State of the Union address at a campaign-style event outside of Washington, this time visiting a Georgia preschool where youngsters still on winter break showed up to mimic a regular day.
Obama's visit to the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, in the city of Decatur just outside Atlanta, followed his call in Tuesday night's speech to Congress for investments in high-quality early childhood education programs.
The president spent time in a classroom where he hugged some students - who told him they saw him on television - and praised the teachers he said were giving their students a boost into the educational system.
"This isn't baby-sitting," he said. Children who take prekindergarten classes are more likely to read at their grade level, graduate from high school and hold a job down the road - but fewer than 30% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in prekindergarten programs like those at College Heights, he said.
"Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works," he said. "If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here. That's why, even in times of tight budgets, states like Georgia and Oklahoma have worked to make a preschool slot available for nearly every parent who is looking for one for their child."
By Laurel Bongiorno, Special to CNN.
Editor’s note: Professor Laurel Bongiorno is director of the master’s degree program in early childhood education at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. She is working on a book on the value of play in early childhood development.
(CNN) - Young children, ages 3 to 5, learn through play at home. It’s easy to observe.
But then preschool and kindergarten arrive all of a sudden, and children in today’s school environment are often subjected to scripted lessons and direct instruction.
Whether it’s classic theorists such as Jean Piaget or contemporary researchers such as David Elkind, there is general agreement that children learn through hands-on experience, through their play.
So why the disconnect? Why the pressure on teachers to “teach to the (standardized) test”? And why the misconception that testing addresses accountability? Studies show children are at their best during play, so shouldn’t we observe and assess them during play?
My research shows that Mom and Dad help their child develop vocabulary and letter recognition through songs, games and books filled with fun stories. They clearly understand the connection between play and learning.
Not only do they see the benefit of language and literacy play, but they also describe how their children develop physically through running, jumping and climbing, and how they advance small motor skills by stacking blocks, drawing with markers and squeezing glue bottles. In these areas, play is what matters, too.