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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 30, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Arkansas Early Childhood Cognitive Summit
As Delivered
Little Rock, Arkansas

Thank you very much. Governor and Mrs. Huckabee, thank you for hosting this summit. Mrs. Siegelman, Mrs. Keating, thank you for being here as well.

Today we explore subjects that are important to all of us: America's children and their future.

The first five years of life are critical for children to develop the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills they will need for the rest of their lives.

Infants and toddlers need parents and caregivers who are focused on their cognitive development, so that when they start school, they are ready to learn to read. And, once they reach the classroom, children need to be taught by teachers who are trained in research-based reading instruction.

Before they start school, America's children receive care in a variety of settings. While 38 percent receive care solely from their parents, the remaining 62 percent have arrangements for care with relatives, non-relatives, and center-based care, including Head Start.

Regardless of who spends the most time with children during these vital formative years, one thing is certain: the development of early language and pre-reading skills is critical to their reading ability and academic success in school, and it is critical to their success throughout life. Without this development, children can lose confidence and the motivation to learn.

From the crib to the classroom, children need to spend time reading with help from parents and adults. If we take the time to talk to and listen to children -- to read with them, to surround them with books, and to help them put names on things in their environment -- then we will help establish the skills, knowledge, and confidence that will help them learn to read and succeed in school.

Children do not automatically learn to read -- they need help and practice.

A boy named Victor wrote me a letter that demonstrated just how important a parent's 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."

Moms, dads, grandparents - all those who care for a young child at some point during the day -- need to know what they can do to enhance children's language skills and prepare them for success in school.

A new series of magazines for parents and caregivers called "Healthy Start, Grow Smart" is designed to do just that. This monthly guide will be published in both English and Spanish and will be available to parents every month during their baby's first year of life.

These magazines will provide valuable and age-appropriate information about health, safety, nutritional needs, and early cognitive development that has been proven to help babies thrive.

The magazine's two key editors, are here today, Dr. Susan Landry and Dr. Craig Ramey. You will hear from them and from well-known and respected researcher, Dr. Reid Lyon, from the National Institutes of Health. They will focus on ways we can use research-based activities to prepare our youngest children for academic success.

Some parents and caregivers may not realize how important it is to make time for language and literacy building activities. They may think that is the job of the pre-schools and early childhood centers, or that television is a good substitute.

Children's television programs can enhance, but not replace early learning activities. Educational shows like "Between the Lions" or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood are merely a starting point for further education once the television is turned off.

I support PBS's new "Designated Reader" campaign that will encourage millions of parents and caring adults to read to young children every day.

In Mississippi, PBS works with Head Start centers to incorporate children's television and vital language building activities into their daily lessons.

We must also close the gap between the best research and current practices in our Head Start and other pre-school programs. Early knowledge of vocabulary, letter recognition, and phonemic awareness have a significant impact on children's success in school.

For example, reading scores in the 10th grade can be predicted with surprising accuracy based on a child's knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten.

America faces a challenge: we must make sure that children are equipped with the basic skills that lead to success in school. And, once in the classroom, these children deserve the quality education that comes from excellent teachers.

Teachers deserve our respect and appreciation. . .and they need our support. America's teachers need the training and resources to succeed, including: a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of teaching skills and subject content; the ability to assess student needs, such as reading difficulties; and the most effective instructional tools.

We are committed to making sure that every classroom has an excellent teacher. That commitment is backed by the greatest federal investment ever in quality teaching -- $4 billion to recruit, prepare and train teachers.

The money is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in January. This new law gives schools greater flexibility so they can use these federal funds where the local need is greatest.

A friend who is a teacher says, "reading is the new civil right". A child who can read is a child who can dream about the future. . .and make that dream come true.

Many thanks to our hosts and sponsors, and thanks especially to our distinguished presenters for being here. I know they have a great deal of valuable information to share with us today.

Thank you for your participation. I hope you enjoy the summit.

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