Study Reports a Slowing in Pennsylvania School Readiness

 The most recent  School Readiness report from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children paints a cautious picture of future academic success for students in the Commonwealth.  The report examines several family and community level variables including access to medical care, early learning /pre-K programs, and family income – all critical in preparing a young child for entry into school at age six, and often predictors for future success.
In Pennsylvania as a whole:
  • The percentage of children under the age of 4 lacking health insurance (5 percent) had little to no change from the 2011 report, although the amount of children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) declined by over 40,000
  • The amount of young children receiving early intervention services and quality child care increased, both by approximately 6 percent,  however, Head Start and other public pre-K programs served fewer children than the year prior
  • About 38 percent of children under the age of 5 live in low-income families
  • 16.5 percent of children ages 4 and under attend publicly funded pre-K, down from 17.6 percent in the 2011 report
  • Child abuse and neglect reports and substantiations for children under 5 years old decreased

Only time will tell if the sluggish trend in critical school readiness factors will continue, or what (if any) the eventual impact will be on the Pennsylvania children just beginning their educations.  Hopefully, accommodations can be made to maintain these programs as research has found demonstrable cognitive benefits of daycare and pre-K.  Even when factors related to a child’s emotional and social development offset some gains, typically, the overall impact is not diminished.

Work-Family Conflict – Juggling Kids, Aging Parents and a Job You Want to Keep

The latest edition of the policy journal The Future of Children (a collaborative project between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution) was formally released last week at an event in Washington, DC.  The theme of the Fall 2011 issue is Work and Family, a timely topic what with approximately 70 percent of mothers currently in the workforce and an increasing number of single-parent families in the country.  Yet another new demographic trend adding strain to the work-family balance is the large number of aging and elderly parents, grandparents and other relatives who are or will be in need of care as their health declines.

I included a link to the audio of the event at the bottom of this post and encourage interested readers to give it a listen. The presentation concludes with a question and answer segment that expounds on methods to best balance both the needs of businesses and their employees around work-family policy changes such as paid leave (not paid for by the employer) and scheduling flexibility such as “right to request”. An aside – my personal favorite is a comment by a woman who claims that childbirth, based on her experience, only requires a 2-day disability leave.

The journal features 9 submissions on topics ranging from elder care, to an international examination of family leave practices in competitive economies, to the role of the government in work-family conflicts. With the federal government on the sidelines, unable to move forward with any legislation, now may be the time for state-level policy-makers and businesses to take the lead and address the very real issue of work-family conflicts. Some takeaways from the journal’s executive summary include:

  • flexibility in the workplace is a win-win as it is associated with higher productivity for employers and better health, job engagement and satisfaction for employees;
  • family leave policies are not equitable – they are more often seen in higher-paying professions; and
  • there is a need for policies in the workplace that realistically support men and women carrying the responsibility for young child and elder care to reduce work-family conflict at little to no additional cost to the employer.

Work and Family Balance

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Quality Care Builds Resilience in Children

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) brief, I Am Safe and Secure – Promoting Resilience in Young Children by Peter J. Pizzolongo and Amy Hunter discusses the critical role of quality early childhood care and education in fostering resiliency in children. Resilient children, those who positively adapt to trauma or high levels of environmental stress at a young age, are better able to cope with difficult experiences or additional traumas later in life. As this trait is so closely linked to healthy development, early childhood education programs (Headstart, preschool), parenting classes and child care centers should strive to incorporate resiliency-building practices into service offerings and interactions with children and families.

Additional information about children and trauma, as well as how to talk to children about coping with emergencies and/or disasters, is available at the NAEYC website.

The Free Play Movement

The move toward unstructured playtime for youngsters is catching on according to the article Effort to Restore Children’s Play Gains Momentum by Hilary Stout in the January 5, 2010 edition of the New York Times. Evidence of the value of free play supports the push to reintegrate it into preschool and classroom (via recess) settings, but parents are also embracing the need for play guided by imagination, rather than electronic scores and levels or learning objectives.

Teaching kids how to play sounds almost… ridiculous, but in today’s highly structured, indoor-based, technologically-driven society, it may be exactly what they need.