During one of my first classes in my master’s program in educational psychology, I interviewed one of the directors of University of Washington’s Institute of Language and Brain Sciences (ILABS). They look at what the youngest humans can and can’t do. At the time, I was really interested in second language acquisition, and I found an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences and coauthored by Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director at ILABS. This study examined 9 month old babies’ perceptions of foreign languages.
Children speak English because they are exposed to English language from birth. Similarly Children who are exposed to Chinese language will speak Chinese. It’s a combination of an innate ability to speak any language and the interaction a parent or family have with the infant.
These 9 month-old infants were exposed to sessions of five hours of Mandarin and later were able to perceive when they were hearing English as opposed to Mandarin. The control group, the infants who were exposed to five hours of English at the same time, were able to perceive the foreign language approximately forty percent less than the experimental group. You can find the article online to read about how this research was completed. I was fascinated that children so young had such a learning capacity, so I eagerly interviewed this researcher.
More recently, I followed the Summit on Early Childhood Education in December 2014. I knew a bit about school readiness, and I could personally attest to the preparation I received by attending both nursery and preschool. This seminar, however, covered much more. Research demonstrated that students who attended a quality pre-kindergarten program had a greater chance of achieving far faster than their peers in spelling, reading, and math.
Longterm effects included a higher percentage of students graduating, owning homes, and earning higher income. Simply put, a program that focuses on preparation to learn is demonstrably successful. And, consider the benefit such a program would have on children whose first language is not English or whose parents never finished elementary or high school!
Unfortunately, many current school preparatory programs’ cost is prohibitive to low-income families. If the benefits of such programs are so great, why deny the least of these access? And, can these programs be improved or even standardized across the country?