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Pre-Preschool Counts Most, Study Finds


WASHINGTON — Before they enter kindergarten, most American children can identify colors, recognize letters of the alphabet, count to 20, hold a pencil properly and write their own first names, a study found. But preschoolers whose mothers have less education or whose first language isn't English lag behind other kids in both literacy and motor skills, the Education Department study found.

The findings are important because of the link, found in other studies, between early skills and eventual academic performance, the department said.

But the study's author, Nicholas Zill, cautioned that the findings should not overly concern a parent whose child seems behind.

"It's not like your child is doomed if they can't count at a certain age," Zill said.

But the study does raise concerns about whole groups of children who lag, Zill said. Latino children as a group, for example, had fewer literacy skills when they entered kindergarten.

"Many Hispanic mothers simply come from countries with fewer educational opportunities, so of course fewer of them will have finished high school," Zill said.

Some American children go into bilingual kindergarten or first grade classes, but many do not.

At-risk children who attend day care or preschool are more likely to show early reading, writing and counting skills, the study found. But such programs did not lessen health, speech or behavior problems.

The study looked at five risk factors: having a mother who did not finish high school, having a mother whose primary language is not English, being born to an unmarried mother, living in a single-parent household or living in poverty.

Children with three or more factors--about 15% of the nation's estimated 8.6 million preschoolers--showed the greatest skills lag.

The survey data came from telephone interviews with the parents of a random sample of 4,423 children, ages 3 to 5, who had not yet started kindergarten. The data were collected in 1993.

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