Getting a read on Ready to Learn media

Ready to Learn (RTL) is an initiative funded by the US Department of Education to promote school readiness among children aged two to eight, and most preschool children in the US are exposed to RTL media. Supporting early literacy has been one of RTL’s primary focus areas, and this meta-analysis published in Child Development examines the effect of RTL media exposure on young children’s literacy skills.

For this meta-analysis, Lisa B Hurwitz collected data from 45 evaluations involving more than 24,000 children. Overall, results indicate positive effects on children’s literacy (effect size = +0.21), equivalent to approximately 1.5 months of extra literacy learning. Effects were varied across literacy outcomes, with larger effect sizes for phonological concepts and vocabulary than for alphabet knowledge and narrative comprehension. Findings were fairly robust across a variety of research designs and across samples of children, although effects were consistently more pronounced in within-subjects designs and for preschool-age children.

Source: Getting a read on Ready to Learn media: a meta-analytic review of effects on literacy (February 2018), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.13043

Praise to raise self-esteem?

An observational longitudinal study published in Child Development tests whether receiving overly positive, inflated praise from a parent eventually fosters low self-esteem and even narcissism, rather than raising it as might be expected.

The study involved 120 children recruited from schools in the Netherlands and their parents. Children were aged 7 to 11. Children completed questionnaires in school at four six-month intervals, and levels of narcissism and self-esteem were measured using the Childhood Narcissism scale and the Global Self-Worth Subscale of the Self-Perception Profile for Children.

Eddie Brummelman and colleagues found that children with lower levels of self-esteem at the beginning of the study received more inflated praise from parents, which in turn led to lower self-esteem at the later test points. Inflated praise also predicted higher narcissism over time, but only in children with high initial levels of self-esteem.

Source: When parents’ praise inflates, children’s self-esteem deflates (November 2017), Child Development, Volume 88, Issue 6 doi:10.1111/cdev.12936

Can friendships as a teenager predict later mental health?

Research by Rachel Narr and colleagues at the University of Virginia looked at whether the quality of friendships during adolescence can predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health.

The study looked at a sample of 169 teenagers over 10 years, from age 15 to 25. They were surveyed annually and asked about who their closest friends were along with questions about those friendships. They were also assessed on anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth and symptoms of depression.

The researchers found that teens who prioritised close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth and fewer symptoms of depression at age 25 than their peers. However, teens who had lots of friends, rather than a few close friendships, had higher levels of anxiety as young adults.

The study also determined that there was a low relation between teens having high-quality friendships and being more sought after by their peers, suggesting that although some teens manage both popularity and close friendship well, and attract both due to similar characteristics, for the most part, these two types of social success are due to different personal attributes.

Source: Close friendship strength and broader peer group desirability as differential predictors of adult mental health (August 2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12905

Links between pre-school absenteeism and academic learning

A new study, published in Child Development, found that children in the US pre-school programme Head Start who missed 10% or more of the school year had fewer academic gains than their peers who attended pre-school more regularly.

Arya Ansari and Kelly M Purtell used data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009 cohort (n=2,842) to examine the effects of absenteeism among 3- and 4-year-olds on early academic learning. Their findings revealed that, on average, children missed eight days of the school year. However, 12% of children were chronically absent – defined as missing 10% of the school year or more – and missed an average of 22 days of school. Children who missed more days of school, especially those who were chronically absent, demonstrated fewer gains in maths and literacy during the pre-school year. For maths, this was equivalent to approximately two months of lost academic skill gains. In literacy the loss was three months.

The study also found that Black and Latino children were less likely to be absent than white children. Children from households with married parents were less likely to be absent than those from households without two parents. In addition, children were less likely to be absent when they were enrolled in classrooms that operate for more hours per week and in larger and bilingual classrooms. Children were more likely to be absent if their mother showed more depressive symptoms and was unemployed. The quality of interactions between teachers and children positively affected children’s development of literacy skills, and the benefits were roughly twice as large for children who were absent less often.

Source:  Absenteeism in Head Start and children’s academic learning (May 2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12800

How much sleep do teenagers need?

In a new study published in Child Development, Andrew J Fuligni and colleagues examined whether there is an “optimal” amount of sleep for peak levels of academic achievement and mental health in teenagers.

A total of 421 pupils (mean age = 15.03 years) with Mexican-American backgrounds from the 9th and 10th grades (Years 10 and 11) of two high schools in the Los Angeles area reported the amount of sleep they had every night for two weeks. Official school records were obtained at the end of the academic year to measure academic achievement. The Youth Self-Report form of the Child Behavior Checklist was used as a measure of mental health. A year later, 80% repeated the same process and a second wave of data was collected.

Pupils who averaged 8.75 – 9 hours of sleep per school night demonstrated peak levels of mental health, whereas those who averaged 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep per night had the highest levels of academic achievement (see also an earlier study reported in Best Evidence in Brief).

While the results showed that the “optimal” amount of sleep needed is different for the two developmental outcomes, the researchers note that reducing sleep for the sake of academic performance may result in a greater decline in mental health than in the decline in academic performance from increasing sleep for the sake of mental health.

Source: Adolescent sleep duration, variability, and peak levels of achievement and mental health (January 2017), Child Development DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12729

Early maths knowledge among low-income children linked to later achievement

A longitudinal study published in Child Development evaluates an early maths trajectories model for 517 low-income US children from ages 4- to 11-years-old to determine whether children’s maths skills at 4- and 5-years-old predicted their maths achievement at age 11.

Children were tested on six maths skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating and understanding shapes) during their last year of pre-school and near the end of the first grade (Year 2). At the end of the fifth grade (Year 6), they were tested on a range of maths knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry.

Bethany Rittle‐Johnson and colleagues found that children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects in pre-school were strong predictors of their maths achievement at age 11. By the end of the first grade (Year2), understanding written numbers and calculating were the strongest predictors of later maths knowledge. Patterning skills remained a predictor, however, shape knowledge was never a unique predictor of later maths achievement.

These results suggest that children’s maths knowledge in pre-school is related to their later achievement; however, not all early achievement is a useful predictor of future performance.

Source: Early math trajectories: low-income children’s mathematics knowledge from ages 4 to 11 (2016) Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12662