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Learning Aids for Preschoolers Proposed : Education: Foundation says 35% of children enter kindergarten unprepared. Report lists ways to improve their readiness.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying that 35% of American children enter kindergarten ill-prepared, a prominent foundation on Saturday recommended wide-ranging steps to improve the “learning readiness” of the nation’s preschoolers.

The proposals made by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching include a national network of community health centers, a guidebook prodding parents to read to their children and extensive time off for new, working parents.

Other recommendations by the organization include more educational television for preschoolers, learn-and-play centers in shopping malls and “grandteacher” programs for senior citizens to help the young.

The nonprofit foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., laid out the preschool improvement plan in response to President Bush’s announced goal of having all children “start school ready to learn” by the turn of the century.

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“If America hopes to secure its future, children must come first,” foundation president Ernest L. Boyer said in unveiling a 184-page report. “The time has come to move beyond the tired old ‘family versus government’ debate and create a new network of support.”

Several major recommendations, however, would involve spending large sums on old programs at a time of severe strain on the federal budget.

For example, the government’s nutrition program for women, infants and young children, known as WIC, “should be fully funded,” the report said. The National Health Service Corps, a student scholarship program that fills medical gaps in rural areas and inner cities, “should be expanded,” while funding for Maternal and Child Block Grants “should be significantly increased.”

Similarly, the foundations said the Head Start preschool program should be “fully funded by 1995,” and the National Endowment for Children’s Educational Television should be given $20 million immediately and $100 million a year by 1995.

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One of the most ambitious proposals is a national network of “ready-to-learn” health and education clinics. They would offer prenatal and maternal care as well as services to children up to age 5, including regular checkups, screening for hearing and vision problems and testing for lead poisoning. In addition, the clinics would provide parent education programs and coordinate its activities with local schools.

The report also said that every school district should establish a preschool program as an option for 3- and 4-year-olds not participating in Head Start.

Employers were urged to give workers at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborn or adopted children. Also, “parents of preschool children should be given at least two parenting days off each year, with pay, to visit with their children in day care and preschool programs and consult with teachers,” the report said.

The report also called on TV networks to offer at least one hour of preschool educational programming each week. And companies selling products geared to young children--toys, breakfast cereals, fast foods--"should sponsor quality educational television for preschoolers.”

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Besides recommending more parks and playgrounds and a “school readiness program” in every library, museum and zoo, the report proposed that every major shopping mall open a “ready-to-learn center.” This would be “an inviting, creative space where young children can engage in play and learning.”

The report also suggested a “grandteacher program” in which older people participate as mentors in day care centers and preschools.

Further, “every community should organize a series of intergenerational projects--called ‘Grand Days’ perhaps--in which senior citizens engage in activities and excursions with young children.”


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