Of all the Great Society programs, Head Start is perhaps the most popular. It provides center-based services to millions of very cute 3- and 4-year-olds, mostly children from disadvantaged families. If members of the public, educators, and policy makers know a single conclusion from educational research, it is that early-childhood programs have long-term positive impacts.
It's estimated that poor children, by the time they hit kindergarten, have heard 30 million fewer words than their more fortunate classmates. The Clinton Foundation's Too Small to Fail initiative is just one of the national efforts to increase the quantity of language that underprivileged preschoolers are exposed to. But is quantity enough?
With a near-complete record of life at home over the first two years of my son's life, we were able to pinpoint each time he learned to say a new word. We could then trace back in time to find each occasion where he heard that word from caregivers -- the "gestation" period leading to the word's birth.
During the times I was alone with the baby and the toddler was at preschool, I treasured the moments of quiet, relishing in the child that could not yet talk. As Phyllis Diller so eloquently put: "We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up."