Laura Bush photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Colorado Early Childhood Cognitive Development Summit in Broomfield, Colorado

May 21, 2003

Thank you, Governor Owens, for hosting this important summit and for your leadership in enacting reform through Putting Children First. Thank you all for the warm welcome and for your commitment to Colorado's children and their education. You set an inspiring example for educators across the country. I also try to set an example through my work. And according to some kindergarten students, I do some pretty extraordinary things. They wrote to tell me what they think I do in the White House.

Shelbey says that I "help the President with all of his paper work and then help him clean up his office." And that I "take care of him when he is sick and puts cold cloths on his head." Megan said I ".feed the dogs and cook carrot soup for dinner." And I plant the daffodils and do the President's speeches when he isn't feeling well. While Todd said I ".go to a lot of meetings and I wear pretty suits." I also "shovel the snow and feed the birds." Now you understand why I am so excited to be here - I get to take a break from feeding the birds.

The fact is I get to come to summits like this and talk about an issue of great concern to me and to all of us - the early childhood education of America's children. President Bush and I want Colorado's children and every child in America to learn - and this learning must begin long before children enter their first classroom.

The first five years of life are critical for children to develop the physical, emotional, and cognitive skills they will need for the rest of their lives. Infants and toddlers need parents and caregivers who foster their cognitive development, so that when they start school, they are ready to learn to read. And once they reach the classroom, children need teachers who are trained in research-based reading instruction.

Before they start school, children receive care in a variety of settings. Thirty-eight percent of children are cared for solely by their parents, while 62 percent receive care from relatives, non-relatives, or in care centers, including Head Start. Regardless of who spends the most time with children during these vital formative years, one thing is certain - a child's language skills and pre-reading skills are critical to that child's later reading ability and academic success.

Children do not automatically learn the skills they need to begin reading - they need help and practice. From the crib to the classroom, children need to spend time being read to by parents and other adults. If we take time to talk to and listen to children - to read with them and surround them with books - then we will help establish the skills, knowledge, and confidence that they will need to read and succeed.

Years of research in early childhood cognitive development tell us what we can do to ensure children start school prepared for reading and learning. You have heard today from some of America's most respected and innovative researchers in the field of cognitive development. In a few minutes you will hear from Nell Carvel and Mike Rice who have put that research to work with great results. Parents and caregivers need to know specifically what they can do to enhance children's language skills and prepare them for school.

I worked to develop a series of magazines for new parents designed to do just that. Called Healthy Start, Grow Smart, this guide, written in both English and Spanish, is available to parents with twelve monthly issues for a baby's first year of life. These magazines provide valuable and age- appropriate information about health, safety, nutrition, and early cognitive development that has been proven to help babies thrive.

Copies of the magazines are available for you today and you can also find these guides on the White House website. Dr. Susan Landry and Dr. Craig Ramey, two of the magazine's key editors, are here today. Thank you both for your insightful research to help parents learn how to help their children.

We must also close the gap between the best research and current practices in our Head Start and other pre-school programs. Early knowledge of vocabulary, letter recognition, and phonemic awareness has a significant impact on a child's success in school. For example, reading scores in the 10th grade can be predicted with surprising accuracy based on a child's knowledge of the alphabet in kindergarten.

We know that quality, language-rich curriculum provides significant gains for at-risk children. Nell and Mike will tell you about The Cone Center, a Head Start program in Dallas, which incorporated a language-rich curriculum in their pre-school program with outstanding results.

President Bush and I want all children in early childhood programs, including Head Start, to benefit from ground-breaking research on early learning. By putting this research into practice in pre-school programs, we can help assure that children develop strong skills in early language, literacy and math.

In President Bush's 2004 budget recommendation, he proposed to give states the opportunity to coordinate preschool programs, including the federal Head Start program, to best meet the needs of preschool children. With this flexibility states will be able to chart their own course to serve children more effectively and ensure that they are prepared to learn when they reach the classroom. President Bush and I are committed to Head Start and its role in the education of our nation's children. We support the health, nutritional, and other valuable social services that Head Start provides. Incorporating language-rich curriculum only strengthens existing Head Start Programs.

Today you are hearing from some of our nation's leading researchers on how young children learn. But the best scientific knowledge is only effective if it's shared with those who care for children and put into practice across all program lines. Each of you has an important role in ensuring that Colorado's children benefit from the information shared today. We can look beyond our own programs - whether it's Head Start, parent education, or child care, and work with other professionals in the field to ensure that no child is left behind.

A friend who is a teacher says, "reading is the new civil right". A child who can read is a child who can dream about the future - and make that dream come true. While we face a challenge of making sure children are ready to learn to read when they start school, this challenge is not insurmountable. By working together, we can make sure that our children receive a quality education. Thank you, Governor Owens, for your hard work on behalf of Colorado's children. Many thanks to our hosts and sponsors, and to our distinguished presenters for being here. Thank you.

Laura Bush, Remarks by the First Lady at the Colorado Early Childhood Cognitive Development Summit in Broomfield, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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