children from middle-income families spend their preschool years. These middle-income parents are generally less limited by cost and can select preschools on the basis of pedagogical approach, teacher qualifications, and curricular richness, rather than needing to focus on price and convenience.
This split between care and education, between logistical and educational issues, between policies for child safety and those for child development is one we can only deplore. Experience in child care, preschool, or prekindergarten has been shown, in an analysis of the data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Kindergarten Study, to relate to later child outcomes in both literacy and math (Magnuson, Meyers, Ruhm, and Waldvogel, 2004). That same study showed that children from low-income families were less likely than others to have education experiences during their preschool years—though children whose parents had the lowest educational levels showed the greatest gains as a result of such experiences.
Previous reports of the National Research Council (NRC) have emphasized the importance of excellent preschool environments in promoting children’s opportunities to benefit from kindergarten and subsequent progress in school. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (1998) emphasized the opportunities for language and early literacy development available in good preschool settings. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2001b) proposed eliminating the rhetorical distinction between care and education and noted the availability (but limited distribution) of excellent preschool curricular materials and designs. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (2000) emphasized the wide array of factors that influence development and argued convincingly that a scientific basis does exist for making decisions about caring for and educating young children.
Most of the research-based work on optimal design of preschool experiences has focused on language and literacy as the outcomes of interest. Indeed, there is evidence that literacy skills are more subject to environmental influences than are math skills (Jordan, Huttenlocher, and Levine, 1992). But social class differences in mathematics and science achievement are not negligible. Moreover, young children in particular acquire knowledge about literacy, mathematics, and science in much the same way—through conversations with adults and by being read to from information-rich books. In other words, rich language interactions are a key source of all these forms of learning. The agenda to guide future research on early learning within mathematics and science, following on the path of literacy and, perhaps, in concert with literacy, needs to be thoughtfully built through the kinds of conversations that occurred during this one-day NRC event.
The presentations at the workshop, summarized in this volume, reflect how much we can learn from developmental researchers who focus on children’s accomplishments in the preschool years. But children can only accomplish so