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New guidelines offered for early learning

This month local parents and educators have a chance to offer input on a draft of new state learning guidelines for children ages 3-5.

The guidelines range from learning how to count and learn word sounds to being able to participate in physical play and sing favorite songs.

The guidelines came out of Good Start, Grow Smart, the early childhood portion of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education reform law. They prescribe what students should know by the time they enter kindergarten. A task force of representatives from a variety of Montana childhood and education organizations and agencies, including the state Office of Public Instruction, produced the draft between April and September of 2003.

The guidelines will be revised based on public feedback, and then a second draft will be piloted in the spring, leading up to a final draft of the guidelines.

"Early learning guidelines are designed to articulate what children need to know, understand, and be able to do as they enter kindergarten," the draft says.

A public meeting held Friday at District IV Human Resources Development Council in Havre was one of several meetings being held in the state this month, said Lori Evans of Child Care Link, the child care resource program that sponsored the meeting. Evans, who said she participated in a statewide task force to develop the guidelines, said parents and preschool instructors would benefit from the guidelines.

"It's a resource for them - just to help them develop their parenting style or whatever," Evans said before the meeting Friday. "This'll be their first chance to take a look at it and see how they feel about it together."

About 25 people attended the meeting, said Kerry Williams, an early learning specialist who facilitated the statewide task force that produced the guidelines. Williams led the meeting on Friday.

She said it was attended by child care and resource and referral agencies from Havre and Great Falls, as well as staff from preschools and health departments.

Williams is an early-learning specialist at the Early Childhood Project, a nonprofit organization that tries to improve programs and services for young children and families in Montana. It is located on the Montana State University-Bozeman campus. The draft states that the guidelines are voluntary, and are not meant to be enforced or used as an assessment like the portions of No Child Left Behind for older students.

Barb Friede, director of Head Start and Early Head Start at Rocky Boy, said she is skeptical of claims that the new guidelines will not be enforced.

"If they're going to give you guidelines, they're going to want them enforced somehow," she said.

Williams said enforcement is a possibility in the future, but that at this point there are not plans to make them mandatory.

Right now, she said, the guidelines will serve as more of a resource tool to help facilitate communication between preschool teachers and parents and kindergarten teachers as children make the transition to kindergarten.

"So we're hoping that it helps ease the child from one setting into a public school setting, she said.

Friede said her staff will meet soon to discuss the guidelines. She said her program has been dealing with the effects of new federal mandates before these guidelines.

This fall in Head Start programs all over the country, teachers were trained to administer a 15- to 20-minute assessment of each 4-year-old child. Rocky Boy tested more than 60 of its 84 4-year-old Head Start students, Friede said. The tendency to test younger and younger children may not be the best thing for children, she added.

"I worry that it's (not) in the best interest of our children," Friede said. "That's my concern."

Those tests were not part of No Child Left Behind, said Williams.

The draft, which is about 90 pages long, contains 36 guidelines divided among seven curriculum areas: creative arts, language and literacy, mathematics and numeracy, physical development and health, science, social-emotional development, and social studies.

Arts guidelines, for example, include being able to appreciate and produce visual art, music and drama, and language guidelines include being able to understand sentence structure and vocabulary. Math guidelines include being able to recognize and identify numbers, count groups of objects, recognize patterns of objects and create geometric shapes.

Under each guideline, the draft includes scenarios that illustrate how a parent or preschool teacher might integrate that particular skill into the curriculum.

A printed copy of the draft can be obtained by calling Williams at (800) 213-6310, or online at under the ECP Reports heading.

The public can comment on the new guidelines through Dec. 31. Anyone with comments on the guidelines can write comments and fax or mail them to the Early Childhood Project. Comments can also be made with highlighted text directly on the Microsoft Word document and e-mailed to Williams at [email protected].


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