Beyond Guaranteed Preschool: Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents
to a poll published this April, 63% of Americans strongly support
a policy to guarantee affordable, quality early childhood education
for every child. Democratic presidential front runners Hillary Clinton
and Barack Obama both recognize the importance of preschool education
and are committed to increasing its availability.
Senator Obama has applauded the state of Illinois for taking the
initiative and passing a law requiring pre-school for 3 and 4 year
olds. While we also applaud Illinois for being the first state to
pass such a law, we urge state legislators to go a step further
and mandate that child-rearing classes be required before high school
Why child-rearing classes?
As Senator Obama pointed out in a 2006 speech, research shows that
“by age three, roughly 85 % of the brain’s core structure
is formed.” Senator Clinton makes a similar point when she
writes “during the first three years of any child’s
life, his or her brain expands to three times its size at birth.
Infants and toddlers need to be stimulated, read to, and nurtured…”
If the first three years of a child’s life are so very important,
than isn’t preschool much too late to ensure that our children
are getting the right kind of mental stimulation? Many parents are
unaware that verbal interaction stimulates brain development; they
speak few words to their babies or toddlers, and rarely read to
them. Nor do they provide play activities and toys that stimulate
the brain’s verbal and spatial relations centers. Many think
that corporal punishment is the only way to discipline children
including toddlers. Some, like the 23 year old Chicago man, arrested
March 12 for aggravated battery of his infant child, seem unaware
that shaking a baby can lead to its death. Some children are so
traumatized by severe physical punishment that their ability to
learn and relate in a positive way to teachers is seriously impaired.
No one doubts that the most effective way to teach important skills--
reading, writing, math etc. -- is in schools. What could be more
important than the skill of being a good parent? Young people must
be provided with basic information about child development before
they become parents. The future of our nation rests in large part
on their competency as fathers and mothers.
Because they serve as a deterrent to teenage pregnancy, child-rearing
classes should be mandatory in all our school no later than 5th
grade -- some girls become pregnant as early as age twelve. Once
young people understand how demanding children are emotionally and
financially, girls lose their fantasy of a doll like baby that will
provide unconditional love, and boys lose their belief that impregnating
a lot of girls is cool. In June 2006, Senator Obama co-sponsored
a bill to encourage responsible fathering. Child-rearing classes
are probably the single most effective way to do just that.
In developing child-rearing curricula there is no need to start
from scratch. Some excellent programs exist already. Family and
consumer science teachers in Illinois and elsewhere are already
qualified to teach these courses. Programs for younger children
often include a monthly class visit by a parent and baby or toddler.
The rest of the month, with the help of trained teachers, students
reflect on what they learned in the visit, and gain knowledge of
the important role that parents play in supporting their children’s
development physically, socially, emotionally, and in language and
thinking. In addition these programs help students learn to care
for each other, thus eliminating much bullying and conflict that
currently impedes learning.
At a high school level, students are offered classes in child development
akin to those taught at universities. Some programs use “Real
Care Babies,” electronically programmed baby simulators. Each
student has to take the “baby” home a few days a month.
”Babies” wake up several times a night as newborns do;
they often cry during the day. They cannot be turned off and so
students get a very real sense of the responsibilities of being
For as little as approximately $25 per student, the Illinois legislature
could provide an effective and inexpensive intervention to further
our children’s emotional and intellectual development.
De Paul University School for New Learning professor Dana McDermott,
and social philosopher and author Myriam Miedzian are Board Members
of Prepare Tomorrow's Parents (www.preparetomorrowsparents.org)
which is sponsoring the 6th annual Prepare Tomorrow's Parents Month
, from Mothers Day through Fathers Day.
to the Illinois Prepare Tomorrow's Parents Month Index Page
to Prepare Tomorrow's Parents Month Index Page