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At A Loss For Words

How America Is Failing Our Children

Betty Bardige

Publication Year: 2005

Drawing on the latest research on development among toddlers and preschoolers, At a Loss for Words lays out the importance of getting parents, policy makers, and child care providers to recognize the role of early literacy skills in reducing the achievement gap that begins before three years of age. Readers are guided through home and classroom settings that promote language, contrasting them with the "merely mediocre" child care settings in which more and more young children spend increasing amounts of time. Too many of our young children are not receiving the level of input and practice that will enable them to acquire language skills—the key to success in school and life. Bardige explains how to build better community support systems for children, and better public education, in order to ensure that toddlers learn the power of language from their families and teachers.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.

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pp. ix-xii

Language is an important and virtually inevitable part of a child’s development. Communication with important adults is built in at birth,as a way of being sure to be taken care of. Right after birth, a baby communicates. He is born with six different cries: hunger, pain, boredom,fatigue, discomfort, and a cry that accompanies letting off steam at the end of the day....

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pp. xiii-xiv

Language is characteristic of human beings, as natural as breathing. Children say their first words around the time of their first birthday, and almost all are speaking fluently by the time they are four.When they are getting what they need, young children are natural chatterboxes and nonstop learners. Their rapidly expanding language connects them to others, helps them control their behavior, and enables...

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pp. xv-xvii

This book began because my husband, Art Bardige, grew tired of hearing me tell anyone who would listen about the importance of increasing our public investment in early education. “Stop preaching to the converted,” he would say. “Write a book.”...

Part I: Every Child’s Birthright

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1. Jack and Jill

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pp. 3-20

Why do some students learn easily and joyfully while others in the same classrooms continue to struggle? Why are so many of our children coming to kindergarten so far behind their peers that “All children shall start school ready to learn”1 is an unrealized national goal rathe...

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2. Prime Time for Language Learning

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pp. 21-31

Humans are social animals, and their children come into the world primed to communicate. Language and symbolic thought, the hallmarks of humanity, develop very early. The first five years of life, and especially the years between one and four, are prime time for language learning. The brain is growing and developing rapidly, forming new connections...

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3. Why Early Language Matters

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pp. 32-48

If you’re a parent or a grandparent, you’ve probably seen a poster that quotes Robert Fulghum’s classic essay, “All I Really Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Here, according to Fulghum, are the essential guidelines for a meaningful life, phrased in the simple language in which...

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4. Supporting Early Language at Home

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pp. 49-58

Children who are in group care, whether at a center or in a family childcare home, can learn a lot of language from teachers and peers. What about at home? How can parents who are home with their children provide the communication challenges and rich language support that welltrained teachers infuse into children’s days? How can parents who worry that their children are in less than ideal child-care...

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5. Supporting Early Language in Group Care

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pp. 59-73

Statements like these, once common among parents and politicians alike, are slowly giving way to an understanding that young children need more than custodial care and that educating young children in groups is a challenging task. If you’ve ever tried to run a birthday party for even five or six preschoolers, then you know that keeping a group of children happy for just a few hours...

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6. You Don’t Speak My Language

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pp. 74-86

Young children need a “critical mass” of engaging and informative language input, along with lots of opportunities to “use their words” with adults and other children. What happens if the input and communication practice come in more than one language, as is increasingly the case for young children in the United States? What happens when the language a child learns in early childhood is not the language...

Part II: The Quiet Crisis

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7. The State of Early Care and Education in the United States

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pp. 89-100

We’ve seen how early language learning is shaped by daily experience, and how the quality of that experience sets the stage for later achievements or difficulties. But what level of quality is a typical child likely to encounter on a daily basis? How likely is she to have experiences that are more like Jack’s than like Jill’s? How likely is it that the adults she spends time with will engage her in frequent conversations that...

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8. A Perfect Storm

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pp. 101-114

The United States is a country that values education and innovation, yet we can’t seem to get our children off to a good start. Parents are increasingly frustrated by the difficulty of finding affordable child care. Professionals bemoan the low quality of much of what is available. Researchers report a dearth of settings that provide...

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9. Truth, Justice, and the American Way

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pp. 115-124

The facts presented in previous chapters are not new: we have known for a long time that early experience makes a difference to children’s later success, that the early experiences of American children are vastly unequal, and that large numbers of our children start school already “left behind.” A series of national reports and White House conferences...

Part III: Changing Course

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10. A Parent’s Guide to Early Childhood Programs and Policy

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pp. 127-143

The problem can be stated simply: Too many of our children are not getting the input, practice, and responsive caregiving they need during their prime time for language learning. As a result, they start school significantly behind their peers in vocabulary and language use. The ensuing achievement gap can be stubborn; it often widens rather than narrows as time goes on....

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11. Supporting Parents

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pp. 144-157

Parents are their children’s first and most enduring teachers.1 When a child is thriving, we say she is a credit to her family. When a child is failing or not getting what she needs, it is often the parents who are blamed. When too many of our children are coming to school with too few words, requiring disproportionate resources of money and teacher attention and often continuing to lag behind in spite of remedial...

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12. Improving Programs for Children

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pp. 158-169

The majority of young children in the United States are spending significant parts of their days in the care of people other than their parents. Bringing these programs and settings up to a level of quality that is good enough to support robust language development for most children has become a national necessity. It is also surprisingly easy. It has been done many times, in many places, using many different strategies....

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13. Building Systems that Sustain Quality

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pp. 170-186

Early childhood education in the United States is often described as a “nonsystem,” a patchwork of public and private programs that meet the needs of some children but allow many to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, the children most likely to receive inadequate supports are those under four, especially if they are from families with modest incomes. If our goal is to provide every child with a sturdy early language foundation, then we must address the systemic barriers...

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14. We CAN Get There from Here

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pp. 187-204

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush convened the nation’s governors to set educational goals for the nation. The summit led to the adoption of six educational goals, which Congress later expanded to eight. These goals were codified in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act,1 signed by President Clinton in 1994. The National Educational Goals Panel, made up of governors, state legislators, members of...

Appendix: Resources and Connections for Parents, Policy Makers, and Advocates

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pp. 205-212


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pp. 213-244


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pp. 245

E-ISBN-13: 9781592133949
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592133932

Publication Year: 2005