The White House Summit on Early Childhood
The July 2001 White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development was hosted by Mrs. Bush, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. The conference outlined what parents, grandparents, early childhood educators, childcare providers, and other caregivers can systematically do to provide children with rich and rewarding experiences during a period of child development that is marked by extraordinary growth and change.
Research tells us a great deal about what skills and knowledge children need to be prepared for success in elementary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, many homes and classrooms around the country do not have enough information to take advantage of the latest research.
The development of early language and pre-reading skills is fundamental to a child's reading ability, academic success and success throughout life.
At this two-day gathering, educators, caregivers and policy-makers from across the country heard from some of America's most respected and innovative researchers in the field of early cognitive development, from those who put research into practice with great results.
Government and academic leaders as well as practitioners spoke about research-based activities for babies and children to prepare them for reading and learning. The summit continued with the latest research and ways to share information about developing strong cognitive skills in preschool programs, at home, and in other venues.
Scientists talked about the infant brain and how babies seek out and acquire a tremendous amount of language information in the first year of life. Even before babies can speak, 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.
Developmental science shows a strong connection between early language development and reading. Language and reading require the same types of sound analysis. The better babies are at distinguishing the building blocks of speech at six months, the better they will be at more complex language skills at two and three years old, and the easier it will be for them at four and five years old to grasp the idea of how sounds link to letters.
Children need help learning these concepts. A child will not learn the name of the letter "A", the sound an "A" makes or how to print it simply by watching adults read or by being around adults who love books. Children learn these concepts when adults take the time and effort to teach them in an exciting and engaging way.
Of course, preschool children do not need to be taught using the same methods and materials that are used with first and second graders. The challenge for parents, grandparents, preschool teachers, or childcare providers is to develop enjoyable, educational language activities that also engage and develop children's interests, social competencies, and emotional health. These goals can be met, but Mrs. Bush emphasizes a clear and equal focus on building cognitive skills.