What does the research say about arts education?

Child Trends has released a new research brief that identifies “five ways the arts are good for kids”. The author, David Murphey, presents existing research on the topic from several sources such as the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several published articles. The conclusions are as follows:  

  • Arts participation is associated with numerous positive academic and personal outcomes. According to the brief, these outcomes include higher grades and test scores, enrolment in post-secondary education, attainment of a bachelor’s degree and higher levels of literacy and civic engagement.
  • The benefits of arts participation may be greatest for children who are economically disadvantaged. For example, the research shows that young people from poor communities tend to benefit from having one or more projects that strengthen their sense of self and connect them with peers who share their interests.
  • Arts organisations can positively influence children’s neighbourhoods. According to the brief, there is some evidence that the presence of arts organisations (including performance facilities, galleries and artists’ workspaces) helps reduce a neighbourhood’s concentrated poverty and attract other creative and high-tech enterprises.
  • Children’s arts participation varies by age, gender and educational status. For example, the research shows that pupils are more likely to participate in school arts activities if their parents have attained higher education degrees and if they plan to go on to higher education themselves.
  • Music, in particular, may give children a brain boost. According to the brief, young people who have had music training demonstrate higher cognitive skills across disciplines

Source: 5 ways the arts are good for kids (April 2017), Child Trends

What works for bullying prevention?

Child Trends has released a new policy brief on preventing bullying and cyberbullying. The report provides information on the current state of bullying research using data from the US Department of Education, journal articles, and existing research by Child Trends, and provides recommendations for addressing and preventing bullying behaviour.

The report notes that while many bullying prevention programmes and strategies are available, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed, and most have never been rigorously evaluated. Based on the existing research, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Include cyberbullying as part of a broader approach to bullying prevention. Strategies targeting cyberbullying alone without addressing the broader issue of bullying are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, monitoring pupils’ social media accounts is likely to be an ineffective use of resources without additional efforts to encourage more civil behaviour online and in person.
  • Support the development of evidence-based approaches through dedicated funding for research. Such investments should also examine interventions, such as integrated pupil supports, for pupils who are targeted by bullying or witness it.
  • Discourage approaches that lack evidentiary support, criminalise young people, or remove them from school. Research shows that anti-bullying assemblies, speakers, and campaigns are not effective at preventing bullying, nor are zero-tolerance policies that remove students from school and do not address the underlying causes of bullying behaviour.

Source: Preventing bullying and cyberbullying: research-based policy recommendations for executive and legislative officials in 2017 (Jan 2017), Child Trends

Best practices for informing policy-makers about research

A new report from Child Trends reviews the literature on conditions under which US policy-makers are most likely to use research, including the presentation formats that best facilitate their use. The authors, Elizabeth Jordan and P Mae Cooper, offer several insights based on their review of the evidence, including:

  • Policy-makers prefer a personal connection or conversation to a written report. One reason the authors cite is that reports are undigested information, meaning they require some expertise to pull out the information that is most relevant to the situation at hand.
  • While personal connections are usually best, no legislator can build and maintain relationships with experts in every field. The authors say that usually it is legislative staffers who fill this gap. Reports that summarise findings from a body of research are particularly useful to staffers, as they cover a variety of topics at one time.
  • For research to be useful to policy-makers and their staff, it must be relevant. The authors note that the information must relate to current policy debates, show an impact on “real people”, present information that is useful across states or localities, and be easy to read.
  • There are some formatting decisions that can help improve a written report’s accessibility. The authors suggest bulleted lists, highlighted text, charts, and graphs to help a policy-maker or staffer quickly absorb the main points of the research.

The report also provides several real-life examples of how research has informed public policy. For instance, the authors describe how rigorous evidence of the short- and long-term positive outcomes for children and families who participated in early childhood home visiting led the Obama Administration to create a new federal home visiting programme.

Source: Building bridges: How to share research about children and youth with policymakers (2016), Child Trends

Mental wellness in early childhood

Child Trends has released a new research brief on mental wellness in early childhood. Using research from various sources such as university publications, journal articles, and government websites, they identify five “things to know” to help parents and caregivers lay a solid foundation for healthy childhood development.

  1. Infants experience and perceive a range of emotions. Caregivers may underestimate the degree to which infants’ social-emotional development is affected by early experiences. Although infants as young as six months can “begin to sense and be affected by their parents’ moods,” fewer than 35% of caregivers believe that infants are capable of experiencing emotions in this way.
  2.  Early positive interactions promote emotional wellness throughout the lifespan. Interactions between caregivers and infants are critically important, as “neural connections are formed through the interaction of genes and a baby’s environment and experiences,” especially through communication with caregivers.
  3. Having appropriate expectations of young children’s development is important. Emotional development is a critical component of brain development that is not always emphasised as much as cognitive, physical, or verbal development. Each person’s development is unique, but caregivers should understand general social-emotional milestones – such as copying caregivers’ actions – in order to keep expectations appropriate and monitor potential red flags.
  4.  Parents and caregivers should be mindful of their own emotional well-being, seeking support if they need it. Caregivers who effectively treat their mental illness may lower the effects of the illness on their children.
  5. Young children are resilient and, if properly supported, can overcome potentially traumatic events. Young children may be able to overcome the effects of adverse events through consistent, predictable, supportive interactions.
Source: Five Things to Know about Mental Wellness in Early Childhood (2015), Child Trends.

Getting to the root of bullying

This report from Child Trends summarises factors in early childhood that appear related to later bullying, and what can be done to buffer those factors. The information is based on a review of existing research on the topic. The paper also looks at specific programmes that are designed to address and prevent risk factors for bullying in young children, and summarises the programmes’ evidence of effectiveness.

Key findings were as follows:
  • Research suggests that a child’s relationship with his or her caregivers is absolutely critical to consider when exploring the roots of later involvement in bullying (in some cases, as either victim or bully).
  • Research on the role of non-parental caregivers and settings on later bullying is limited, underscoring a substantial gap in the literature. Nevertheless, the role of peers, neighbourhood characteristics, socio-economic factors, media exposure, and prejudice have all been identified as correlated to bullying.
  • The research literature shows that effective, evidence-based early childhood interventions primarily used a curriculum-based approach with specific strands of content to support the classroom teacher, the child, and the parents/caregivers in addressing aggressive behaviours. Key themes among these approaches included using a mix of educational materials with a tailored interactive approach, and using goal setting and action planning.
Source: Bullies in the Block Area: The Early Childhood Origins of “Mean” Behavior (2015), Child Trends.

What works for reducing problem behaviours in early childhood?

A new research brief from Child Trends synthesises findings from random-assignment, intent-to-treat evaluations of 50 behaviour programmes. The evaluations assessed programme impacts on externalising behaviours (eg, aggression, disruptive behaviour, and oppositional defiance) and/or internalising behaviours (eg, withdrawal, anxiety, or depression) among children aged birth to five.

Overall, 36 of the 50 programmes were found to have a positive impact. Specifically:

  • 32 of 49 programmes (65%) improved externalising behaviours;
  • 13 of 24 programmes (54%) improved internalising behaviours; and
  • Of the 23 programmes that assessed impacts on both behaviours, eight (35%) worked for both internalising and externalising behaviours.

Findings showed that interventions characterised by a variety of approaches, settings, targets, and providers worked to reduce externalising behaviours, suggesting that this cluster of behaviours can be improved using a number of different approaches.

In addition, the authors conclude that programmes targeting parents and teachers are especially successful and should continue. They say that innovative approaches to programme delivery, including technology-based or self-guided training, should be explored to scale up these successful programmes and reach families who struggle to attend training or commit to home-visiting.

Source: What Works for Reducing Problem Behaviors in Early Childhood: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations (2015), Child Trends.