Excellent Instruction in Early Childhood

Research on brain development in the last decade has confirmed what many parents, educators and community leaders have felt for ages – that a positive, warm, language-rich environment plays a critical role not only in childhood, but throughout a person’s life.

The powerful role of early childhood education is also borne out by statistics: Children who attend high quality pre-kindergarten programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education and more likely to graduate high school (National Institute for Early Education Research, 2003).

Since the 1970s, when IDRA developed AMANECER, a curriculum that incorporates Spanish language and Latino values and culture, IDRA has upheld a commitment to early childhood education as a key to success for all children. All of our work extends from this basic premise: Children and families whose first language is not English must have access to quality education at the earliest levels of school. From research and community engagement that informs leadership development and public policy, IDRA promotes academic success for preschool children while valuing children’s cultural, linguistic, gender and racial uniqueness.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Conducting Research – In its second year of implementing the project, Reading Early for Academic Development (READ), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, IDRA is conducting research on effective curricula and teacher practices that prepare all children – whether Spanish dominant or English dominant – with “English readiness” for kindergarten and beyond. These findings, building on a body of research and practice, will inform both the project and the field.

Developing Leaders – In addition to original research, the READ project alliance has a vision for creating centers of excellence, classrooms from which all preschool children emerge ready to read and to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. As excellence demands visionary leadership, IDRA has worked closely with Head Start centers, helping teachers to perfect early childhood practices and to engage parents as their children’s first, and most important, teachers. As part of this initiative, IDRA has augmented the Head Start program’s “HeadsUp! Reading” teacher development course with a training component for working effectively with kids whose first language is not English.

The Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute, to take place April 19-21, 2005, in San Antonio, is also a key component in our effort to support the development of visionary leadership and collaboration among parents, school administrators and teachers. Now in its 12th year, the institute is the only early childhood conference to focus on English language learners and leadership development. It attracts participants from as far away as Puerto Rico. The theme of this year’s institute, “Classrooms of Excellence – Laying the Foundation for Early Reading Success,” emphasizes training on phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, fluency, comprehension, alphabetic principle, technology, and policy. For more information, see the IDRA web site (www.idra.org) or call 210-444-1710.

Informing Policy – In 2004-05, IDRA convened InterAction: Higher Education and Latinos in the New Millennium, a series of policy forums designed to build stronger, enduring links among PK-20 classrooms, institutions of higher education, and the community and business sectors to effect meaningful education reform. In promoting linkages from early education to college graduation, InterAction lays a foundation for dialogue and policy recommendations for developing and funding the supports all students need to succeed from Day One. This initiative is funded by Houston Endowment, Inc.

Engaging Communities – Parent involvement has long been a central component of the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute, and this year is no exception. But in addition to annual training on parent leadership and partnerships, IDRA provides ongoing resources, training, information and support to parents of young children through the Texas Parent Information Resource Center. Through the PIRC, IDRA provides comprehensive, multicultural and multilingual parent leadership support to strengthen partnerships between parents and schools for student success.

What You Can Do

Texas and the nation need visionary leadership and collaboration among parents, school administrators and teachers to create quality early education programs that value and capitalize on each student’s unique background, language and culture. Three ways that you can ignite leadership and take action are to:

Get informed by learning about early childhood organizations that exist locally in your area, around the state and nationally. You can locate your nearest Head Start program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration of Youth and Families’ search engine at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/hsb/hsweb/index.jsp. More general information on Head Start programs (research, statistics and data) can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/index.html. You can find local affiliates of the National Black Child Development Institute, a network of parents and professionals dedicated to the well-being of African American children, at http://www.nbcdi.org/affiliates/affiliates.asp. To learn more about key issues in early childhood education and emerging national policy debates, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children web site at http://naeyc.org/policy/. And visit IDRA’s Texas Parent Information Resource Center at http://www.idra.org/families-and-communities/ for resources on multicultural, multilingual parent engagement and leadership.

Get involved by joining a national organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Black Child Development Institute, and play an active role in state and national policy and advocacy efforts, ranging from early education funding to research, and from parent involvement to teaching practices and curriculum development. Or, more locally, you can join an organization like the Texas Association for Children Under Six or a local chapter.

Get results by keeping your leaders and policymakers informed about the importance of early childhood education for all children. In an era in which services to children are being cut back, become a local leader and advocate for quality early childhood education. To sharpen your skills, check out NAEYC’s Toolbox for Advocates at http://www.naeyc.org/policy/toolbox/pdf/toolkit.pdf. You can also co-sponsor with IDRA a La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute in your own community, bringing training to your area and building critical leadership in early childhood education.

Additional Research and Resources

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]