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Developmental diversity and your life preschools

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Developmental Diversity and Your LifePreschools Around the World: Why Does the United States Lag Behind?In France and Belgium, access to preschool is a legal right.Sweden and Finland provide child care for preschoolers whoseparents want it. Russia has an extensive system of state-runyasli-sads, nursery schools and kindergartens, attended by 75percent of children age 3 to 7 in urban areas.In contrast, the United States has no coordinated nationalpolicy on preschool education—or on the care of children ingeneral. There are several reasons for this. For one, decisionsabout education have traditionally been left to the states andto local school districts. For another, the United States hasno tradition of teaching preschoolers, unlike other countriesin which preschool-age children have been enrolled in formalprograms for decades. Finally, the status of preschools inthe United States has been traditionally low. Consider, forinstance, that preschool and nursery school teachers are thelowest-paid of all teachers. (Teacher salaries increase as theage of students rises. Thus, college and high school teachersare paid the highest salaries, while preschool and elementaryschool teachers are paid the lowest salaries.)Preschools also differ significantly from one country toanother, reflecting their differing societal views of the purposeof early childhood education. For instance, in a cross-countrycomparison of preschools in China, Japan, and the UnitedStates, researchers found that parents in the three countriesview the purpose of preschools very differently. Whereasparents in China tend to see preschools primarily as a wayof giving children a good start academically, Japaneseparents view them primarily as a way of giving children theopportunity to be members of a group. In the United States, incomparison, parents regard the primary purpose of preschoolsas making children more independent and self-reliant,although obtaining a good academic start and having groupexperience are also seen as important (Huntsinger et al., 1997;Johnson et al., 2003).
Chapter 7 • Physical and Cognitive Development in the Preschool Years247PREPARING PRESCHOOLERS FOR ACADEMIC PURSUITS: DOES HEAD STARTTRULY PROVIDE A HEAD START?Although many programs designed for preschool-ers focus primarily on social and emotional factors, some are geared primarily towardpromoting cognitive gains and preparing preschoolers for the more formal instructionthey will experience when they start kindergarten. In the United States, the best-knownprogram designed to promote future academic success is Head Start. Born in the 1960sduring the height of the War on Poverty, the program has served over 30 million childrenand their families; each year, nearly 1 million children age 3 and 4 are in Head Start. Theprogram, which stresses parental involvement, was designed to serve the “whole child,”including children’s physical health, self-confidence, social responsibility, and social andemotional development (Gupta et al., 2009; Zhai, Raver, & Jones, 2012; Office of HeadStart, 2015).

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