|New Program Teaches Preschoolers Reading
Skills, Getting Along With Others
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and other
federal agencies shows that it's possible to teach preschoolers
the pre-reading skills they need for later school success, while
at the same time fostering the socials skills necessary for making
friends and avoiding conflicts with their peers.
The findings address long standing concerns on whether preschool
education programs should emphasize academic achievement or social
and emotional development.
"Fostering academic achievement in preschoolers need not
come at the expense of healthy emotional development," said
Duane Alexander, M.D., director of NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD),
which provided much of the funding for the study. "This study
shows that it's possible to do both at the same time."
The study appears in the November/December issue of Child Development
and was conducted by Karen Bierman, Ph.D., distinguished professor
of Psychology at Penn State University.
In recent years, education officials and researchers who study
early childhood education have struggled with whether to emphasize
academics in preschool programs or to instead try to advance preschoolers'
social skills, explained the NICHD project officer for the study,
James Griffin, Ph.D., deputy chief of the Child Development and
Behavior Branch. The current study marks the first attempt to develop
a curriculum that addresses both concerns equally, Dr. Griffin
In the study, the researchers compared the progress of students
who received a traditional Head Start curriculum to those who received
a curriculum with enhancements in the areas of social and emotional
learning and pre-reading skills. The new program is known as the
REDI (Research-Based, Developmentally Informed) Head Start program.
The researchers developed the REDI curriculum by combining a program
that fosters social and emotional development (Preschool PATHS)
with curriculum components that promote language development and
pre-reading skills. A program of the Administration for Children
and Families, Head Start fosters school readiness through the provision
of comprehensive services, including education, health, mental
health, parent involvement, nutrition and services to children
Like traditional preschool programs, the REDI program emphasizes
such pre-reading skills as learning the alphabet, and learning
to manipulate the sounds that letters represent. Earlier research
has shown that children with such skills are more successful at
learning to read than are children who lack them. The REDI program
also allows ample time for teachers to read interactively with
children, asking them questions and encouraging their active involvement
in story telling, which builds the vocabulary and language skills
needed for later school success.
In the REDI program, many of the reading sessions focus on social
problems and involve fictional characters who learn to master the
emotional frustrations and conflicts common among groups of preschoolers.
For example, in one lesson, Twiggle the Turtle learns techniques
for controlling his temper. An older turtle happens by after Twiggle
has just shoved a classmate who knocked over his building blocks.
The older turtle teaches Twiggle, that, instead of shoving someone,
he should go into his shell, take a deep breath, say what's bothering
him, and say how it makes him feel. From this, the children learn
that when a conflict erupts, they stop what they're doing, cross
their arms, take a deep breath, state the problem, and tell the
other child how it makes them feel.
"The lesson teaches them to take a time out from their emotions,
to avoid acting impulsively," Dr. Bierman said. "Stating
what's bothering them, and how they feel, is the basis for self
control and problem solving in stressful social situations."
Other lessons involve learning how to recognize such emotions
as anger and sadness in oneself and others, sharing, and taking
The study took place at 44 Head Start centers in Central Pennsylvania.
Half the centers used the REDI program enhancements, half used
the traditional Head Start program without the enhancements.
When compared to children in the traditional Head Start program,
children in the REDI program scored higher on several tests of
emotional and social development than did children in the traditional
program. This included skills in recognizing emotions in others,
and responding appropriately to situations involving a conflict.
Moreover, parents of children in the REDI group reported fewer
instances of impulsivity, aggression and attention problems than
did parents of children in the traditional program.
Children in the REDI program also scored higher than children
in the traditional program on several tests of pre-reading skills:
vocabulary, blending letter sounds together to form words, separating
words into their component letter sounds, and in naming the letters
of the alphabet.
Support for the study was administered by the NICHD, with funding
provided by the agencies participating in the federal Interagency
School Readiness Consortium, which includes the NICHD, the Administration
for Children and Families, the Assistant Secretary for Planning
and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services,
and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services
of the U.S. Department of Education. The consortium fosters research
that promotes school readiness for children who are at risk for
later school difficulties.
The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population
issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit
the Institute's Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers
and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic,
clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates
the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.