When I moved to North Carolina in 1973, Republican Governor Jim Holshouser expanded kindergarten, the 13th grade, to all of North Carolina’s public schools. It’s time that the state starts planning to add grade 14, pre-kindergarten.
Adding a new grade will test convention. But so did kindergarten. Most of my generation grew up accepting the decades-long practice of formal school starting at age six.
Science and research over the past 30 years have shown that children’s brains develop quicker and are easily capable of formal learning at earlier than age six.
For example, research finds that brain nerve cells multiply by six times from birth to age two. The brain neurons for vision are very active at two to four months, peaking at eight months when babies begin noticing the world around them.
Learning language starts very early and exposure to words in a child’s first four years helps strengthen his or her ability to learn later.
Other countries such as Japan start children in school at age three. Studies also show that stress such as child abuse, poverty, and neglect conversely inhibit brain development in babies.
This research has convinced scientists and doctors such as North Carolina’s nationally recognized pediatrician Olson Huff of Black Mountain that children actively begin to learn by age two and three. Dr. Huff, chairman of the state’s Smart Start program, believes there should now be a pre-K grade in the state’s public school system.
Pre-K schooling in North Carolina today is a hodge-podge of voluntary state, federal and private programs. The best known are the former More-at-Four classes for about 40,000, at-risk, poor children; Smart Start and the federal Head Start programs; and numerous private pre-schools. Many children are enrolled in no programs.
Here is what we know now about pre-kindergarten education.
Numerous studies show that pre-K schooling improves the learning and development of young children, according to the Association for Psychological Science.
These improvements are long-lasting. Fewer children have to repeat grades. They have higher graduation rates. They (and their teachers and parents) enjoy improved social behavior.
Research in North Carolina finds that children attending the former More at Four classes that are part of the state’s school system performed higher than those in private schools. The evaluation states that “children made substantial gains” in language and literacy skills, math skills and general knowledge.
The facts make the case for a pre-K grade. It’s up to North Carolina’s political leaders to make it happen.