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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 3, 2001
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio Regional Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development
(Introduced by Hope Taft, First Lady of Ohio.)
Thank you Hope. Thank you and the Governor for your leadership and for hosting this summit for the leaders in education from three states, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
Superintendent Zelman; Thank you for being here as well.
And thanks to Chad Wick of Knowledge Works Foundation for helping to make todays summit possible.
And, of course, thanks to all of our presenters for being here. We look forward to hearing you today.
America has been through much these past few weeks. In the wake of tragic events, our nation has come together, answering grief and adversity with kindness and courage.
The terrorist attacks have deepened our appreciation of life itself made us aware of how fragile it can be, what a gift it is, and how much we all need one another. We also realize the incredible roles that our teachers and our schools play during this difficult time.
You bring routine into the classroom, and thats what children need: routine
America is fortunate that people like you are comforting children as they confront this difficult issue. You listen when children need to talk. You reassure them when they are uncertain. You share many of their feelings. And, by sharing, you ease the burden.
Today we talk about a subject that is of great importance to all Americans .and one that is close to my heart the development and education of our countrys young children.
As a mother and a former public school teacher, I know how crucial the earliest developmental years are in shaping a childs education and life. During the vital time between birth and kindergarten, children learn basic skills that they will build upon later in life.
My focus on early childhood cognitive development is based on three fundamental principles:
First, children who arrive in school prepared for reading and learning are more likely to meet with great success not only in school, but also in life.
Second, far too many children start school without vital early language and pre-reading skills. Without this preparation children are at great risk of falling behind and staying behind.
Third, evidence shows that, with the right preparation and under proper conditions, all children can reach their full potential. I want to help share that evidence with the rest of the country with parents, teachers, and policymakers.
As a mother, I loved reading and playing language games with my daughters when they were babies. These activities brought joy and laughter to our home. As they grew, so did their love of reading with us, and later by themselves.
What parents have known for years, and what science now confirms, is that the nursery rhymes, stories and songs we often repeated were helping our childrens developing brains understand how language is organized. Talking, reading and singing are as vital to a childs development as they are fun and entertaining.
Children love to hear the same stories over and over again. When a parent or other caring adult reads to a child every day, that child develops a broader vocabulary.
I often read Good Night Moon to my babies that was their favorite book. One evening we were walking outside with Barbara in a stroller, and she looked up at the round globe of the light in a streetlamp and said her first word: moon.
My children, like many others, started school with strong early language skills. Research shows that reading success correlates with this sort of early preparation.
Children who arrive in school prepared for reading and learning are more likely to succeed in every subject and in every grade.
All of Americas children deserve a great start at education, and we know the best ways to prepare them for learning.
During each phase of life from the crib to the classroom, children benefit from language-rich and literacy-focused activities.
Babies begin developing language skills shortly after birth long before they say their first words. The infant brain actually seeks and acquires a tremendous amount of information about language in the first year of life.
By the time babies utter or understand their first words at 12 months, they have already figured out many of the components of language. They know which particular sounds their language uses, what sounds can be combined to create words, and the tempo and rhythm of words and phrases.
The better infants are at distinguishing the building blocks of speech at six months, the better they will be at mastering complex language skills at two and three years old. At four and five years, they can begin to understand how sounds link to letters. They can learn letter names, letter sounds, and can link them together. And, they also can read a few words. More importantly, they have fun doing it.
From an early age, children can and do love learning new concepts about language, print and numbers. Children benefit most when their parents and other caring adults are actively involved in activities that both nurture them and stimulate their cognitive growth.
Despite the evidence pointing to success with early language development, far too many children start school at a disadvantage because they havent had the benefit of valuable language and pre-reading experiences.
Scientists who analyze the cognitive abilities (including language and pre-reading skills) of preschool-age children can predict how well they will do in school. In fact, experts can predict reading scores in the 9th grade with surprising accuracy based on a childs knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2001), 38 percent, or 1.4 million, of Americas fourth graders cannot read and understand a simple paragraph from an age-appropriate book.
Children who have fewer books at home or who talk less with their parents do have difficulties learning to read. Children, who read less with their parents, sometimes because their parents cant read or because they have little spare time to read together, may also struggle with reading.
Ten to 15 percent of weak readers drop out of school. With limited options, they are more than twice as likely to be unemployed after dropping out, to be arrested or to abuse drugs and alcohol. Reading problems can be as much a public health problem as an education problem.
With the right preparation and under proper conditions, all children can reach their full potential.
This spring I launched an initiative called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn. The initiative has two major goals: first to ensure that all children are prepared for reading and learning when they start school; and second, to encourage more people to choose teaching as a career.
In July I convened a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, where many experts and practitioners including some who are here today talked about how to help children get ready to read and ready to learn.
My specific purpose in convening this summit was to develop a clear understanding of what we can do systematically to give children rich and rewarding early experiences during a period of development that is marked by extraordinary growth and change.
First, parents should be involved because they are their children's first teachers. Parents need to know how important it is to spend time talking and reading with their children.
A boy named Victor wrote me a letter that demonstrated just how important a parents role can be.
He wrote, I love to read books. I learned to love books because my mother makes me read twenty minutes a day and write a book report. Books are an important part of my life. They teach many lessons and are also enjoyable.
Books are important in childrens lives and so is parental involvement.
Getting parents involved and keeping them involved is a priority and a challenge. But its a challenge we can meet together.
Parents need to know that early language and reading skills are established through activities like language play, one-on-one reading, bedtime stories and through conversations about story characters and the situations that the stories bring to life.
They need to know that children who are read to learn two things: first that reading is important, and second, that they are important.
Second, we also need to be sure our preschool programs are using the latest research to help prepare children for success in school.
To be sure, this does not mean that preschool children should be sitting behind school desks being taught with the same methods and materials that are used with first and second graders.
The challenge of the parent, the grandparent, the preschool teacher, or the childcare provider is to develop fun, educational language activities that also engage and develop childrens interest, social competencies, and emotional health. All of these goals can be joined and met, but there must be a clear and equal emphasis on building literacy skills.
Pre-school programs can have a huge impact on childrens cognitive development. In fact, pre-K programs like Head Start can serve as a critical safety net.
Pre-schools can have dramatic, positive impacts on children's ability to learn and grow.
One of the best examples of this is at the Margaret Cone Head Start Center in Dallas where teachers use a curriculum called LEAP or the Language Enrichment Activities Program. This program is rich in pre-reading and vocabulary skills
Before LEAP was introduced in 1994, children who left the Cone Center and entered the local public school scored as low as the 21st percentile on the National Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Several years after using the LEAP curriculum, children's achievement levels soared on average to the 94th percentile.
We should spotlight more successful pre-school programs, like the Cone Center, which give children an environment thats rich with pre-reading and vocabulary boosting activities.
Part of the reason for the shortfall in childrens success is that we simply havent focused enough attention on teaching important basic vocabulary, language, and pre-reading concepts in preschool programs.
Weve allowed ourselves to be guided by the inaccurate idea that early learning is compromised of physical and emotional maturing and that preschool children are not developmentally ready to learn about letters, sounds, writing, numbers, vocabulary concepts or other sophisticated content.
Science refutes that idea. Children are ready to learn from an early age, and parents, teachers, and other caring adults should know about the importance of active early learning and development.
Armed with this information, colleges and universities can better prepare future teachers and, in the interim, can make sure that teachers, parents, and childcare providers are using programs that work.
While I'm focused on early language and pre-reading development, I do not want to minimize the importance of nutrition and physical development or the development of feelings, behavior, and social skills. To address early cognitive development, including language and literacy development, outside of the context of social and emotional development, would limit the progress that we can make. All of these competencies are intertwined and each requires focused attention.
Knowing "what works" is only effective when it's delivered in an informed manner.
Today I'm excited to tell you about two documents recently published to help teachers and parents learn more about evidence-based reading research.
These publications are titled "Put Reading First" and they're the result of work done by a partnership of the National Institute for Literacy, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education.
I hope you will join the President and me in our goal to ensure that all children can learn to read so, later, they can read to learn.
If the President and I ever have any doubt about our goal, all we have to do is read some of the letters we receive from America's children. Their notes, ideas, and advice give us a lot of inspiration.
A first-grader named Willi mailed me a letter that said, "I have a great teacher who wants us all to read, and we all can read now. We read books and we even read the newspaper everyday. PS: You forgot to mention to the USA that us kids want to learn to read too."
I appreciate your commitment to children like Willi and to their education.
Early childhood cognitive development is a crucial part of education in America, and it's a subject that we will continue to focus on during this administration.
We want to make sure that our children's journey through life is a successful one.
Thank you very much.