The kids most likely to skip quality Pre-K programs are — you guessed it — poor children, says Greg J. Duncan, a professor at University of California Irvine. That partly explains a gap — equivalent to about 20 IQ points or 120 SAT points — in reading and math skills between the nation’s richest 20 percent and poorest 20 percent of kindergarten-aged kids. Even worse, American schools are not a great equalizer because those in low-income areas tend to have teachers without tenure, behavioral problems that slow down entire classes and more mobile families, he says.
“Most of the gap comes from what goes on in the home,” says Duncan. “It’s not to say cognitive ability doesn’t play a role, but much of the gaps are caused by differences in parenting practices.”
Reading and math lessons are easily disguised as exciting activities, says Silvia P. Tarafa, principal of the Key Biscayne K-8 Center.
Most people read with kids, but don’t forget to introduce non-fiction books about their interests, such as dinosaurs or sharks, she says. Bake cakes often, relying on your measuring cups or sticks of butter to help with fractions. At the store, compare prices together and try to pay cash for the subtraction equation you’ll get in return.
Don’t miss the opportunity to demonstrate that four quarters make a dollar, or any other useful coin combinations. When they paint pictures, frame the masterpieces, which requires measuring the length, width and perimeter — but feel free to calculate the area of the picture too.
“When a child has heard the concepts at an early age,” says Tarafa, “that child will make a connection to the concept when it’s introduced by a teacher.”
Tarafasays parents can play a role in introducing the important concepts into daily activities. For example:
1. When packing for a trip, ask the child to bring three or four shirts and five pairs of pants, because number recognition — rather than counting on fingers — is critical.
2. Never use the term “take away” and instead say “subtract.”
3. Together, read non-fiction books about the child’s interest, such as sharks, cooking, outer space or dinosaurs.
4. At the store and online, always compare prices.
5. Pay with cash and discuss important coin combinations, such as how four quarters make a dollar.
6. Bake brownies, using your measuring cup and sticks of butter as tools to teach fractions.
7. Let them open a savings account and see how interest compounds.
8. Measure the items you’ll buy for your home, converting the lengths to inches, feet, yards — and don’t forget metrics.
9. Frame their artwork, but first, together measure the picture’s length, width and perimeter.
10. Remember, there are some things — such as multiplication tables — that need to be memorized.
This is one of an occasional series of columns by Miamian Brett Graff, a former U.S. government economist who writes about how economic forces are affecting real people.