A Tense Year for Flu Watchers in Early Care and Education

October 30, 2009

If you’re a parent or pre-K provider, sizing up the flu threat this year is a bit like watching that troubling pattern on the weather radar. You hope it doesn’t develop into a full-fledged storm and if it does, you hope it doesn’t blow your way. Seasonal flu has always been a worry for pre-K providers but this year the H1N1 flu virus presents a special challenge since young children are more vulnerable to it than the bulk of the population and this virus has the potential to mutate into a more deadly threat. The rapid spread of H1N1 flu prompted President Obama to declare a state of emergency this week and vaccine makers, who haven’t been able to supply sufficient H1N1 doses to meet demand, are being pushed to redouble their efforts.

Research has shown that vaccinating young children is an effective weapon not only in protecting them from flu outbreaks but also in protecting high-risk groups such as the elderly since young children are known to spread the virus to adults. Vaccinations for flu administered to kids early in influenza outbreaks have particularly high benefits for the rest of the population because the vaccine is relatively effective and the flu is highly infectious. One study simulating an outbreak found the benefit to be greater than one case of flu prevented in the rest of the population per influenza vaccination administered to a child.

Findings like this have prompted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to recommend that children between six months and 18 years old receive seasonal flu vaccinations. Of course, the CDC is not vested with the authority to require kids to receive them. That rests with the states. To date, only New Jersey has made it a regulation that kids must receive seasonal flu vaccinations (as well as pneumonia) as a condition of attending pre-K. Approved over the objections of the anti-vaccination lobby last year, the new regulation puts the state in a proactive position this flu season since getting kids vaccinated early is a key to containing outbreaks.

The vaccine for H1N1 flu, which requires two nasally administered doses to immunize children began arriving in October. Researchers looking at epidemiological models say that if a concerted effort is made to vaccinate 70 percent of children between six months and 18 years old for H1N1 flu first, it could lead to coverage of 70 percent of the entire U.S. population since kids are prime spreaders of the virus. Read the rest of this entry »

Yet More Evidence: It’s Time to Strengthen Math, Science in Pre-K

October 23, 2009

Let’s face it: Math and science are about more than counting and recognizing shapes, even for 3- and 4-year-olds! The pre-K crowd is curious about exploring everyday math and science and comes to preschool armed with basic concepts. Young children create patterns with different colored materials, build towers with blocks and note that one tower is taller than the other. They question where puppies come from, observe that people have different color eyes and come up with explanations for the difference. These early explorations and engagement in associated thinking processes serve as foundations for learning as children continue toward more formal understandings.

Yet opportunities for children to learn math are often limited to memorizing the number words in sequence up to 20 and counting objects. Some teachers also encourage children to identify patterns or basic shapes in the environment, such as squares and circles. Similarly, opportunities to explore science concepts are provided occasionally but are rarely available on a daily basis or integrated into daily activities.

Evidence continues to mount, however, that this is not enough to help children learn the skills that will serve them best in elementary school and beyond. Most recently, it comes by way of the new report from the National Assessment of Education Progress showing that the nation’s fourth grade math scores have remained essentially unchanged since 2007.

This reinforces the need for policymakers to heed what NIEER recommends in its March 2009 brief Mathematics and Science in Preschool: Policies and Practice and to spend quality time becoming familiar with the National Research Council’s comprehensive July 2009 report Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity.

The NRC report points to the emphasis placed on literacy in recent years and research showing that pre-K teachers are less comfortable teaching math and science as factors contributing to the lag in support for math. Whatever the case, there is a growing sense that American children should be better grounded in these critical domains. One reason is the poor performance American high school students perennially turn in on math and science tests relative to their peers in most developed countries. Another is research pointing to the larger role played by early math skills in later school success than previously thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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