Elsie Thomas, a teacher at the Miramonte Early Education Center, is leading a discussion with a group of preschoolers. She holds up a book titled "Store" and together they explore where different items come from. One boy in a striped shirt points to the cover and the others chime in with the names of different book features. This knowledge about books is a result of the center’s focus on early literacy.
The Miramonte Early Education Center has been implementing a program called Building Language for Learning, which emphasizes early literacy. The children engage in daily activities that involve books and vocabulary related to various places. Their exploration of stores includes singing, playing pretend shoe store, and learning relevant words. These activities help develop their oral-language skills, which aligns with the goals of the Bush administration’s Early Reading First initiative.
Early Reading First is a companion to Reading First, a federal education initiative that provides grants for reading instruction in elementary schools. The Miramonte center is using the Building Language for Learning curriculum, which was co-written by Susan B. Neuman and Catherine Snow. Neuman later became the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. Snow is an education professor at Harvard University.
The curriculum is based on the recommendations from the National Research Council’s report, "Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children." This influential report has guided efforts nationwide to improve reading instruction. It emphasized the importance of preschool teachers and child-care workers in developing children’s literacy skills.
Early Reading First will award grants to preschool programs affiliated with a local education agency receiving Reading First funding. Grants will also be given to programs in communities with a Reading First grant. The goal is to create centers of excellence in early reading across the country. These programs will also be required to screen children to identify those at risk for reading difficulties.
The Department of Education plans to award 50 to 100 grants, each ranging from $750,000 to $1.5 million. The funds will not be distributed until the end of the year. Early-childhood education advocates are pleased with the program and its focus on meeting the developmental needs of young children. They also appreciate the emphasis on professional development for teachers. Adele Robinson from the National Association for the Education of Young Children describes it as a good first step.
Early Reading First aims to not only improve children’s language abilities but also develop their cognitive skills. According to Ms. Neuman, it is crucial to provide children with rich content during their early years. For instance, integrating science or art into the preschool curriculum can give them ample material to discuss and explore. Simply practicing meaningless rhymes will not sufficiently contribute to their overall development.