New evidence on early childhood settings and children’s outcomes

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review by Matthew Manning and colleagues examines the evidence on the relationship between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC), and finds there is a positive association.

The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. Of those samples, 58 assessed the overall quality of ECEC as an outcome. The relationship between teacher qualifications and overall ECEC quality demonstrated a positive correlation (r = 0.198).

Meanwhile, research funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published as a Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper, looks at whether staff qualifications and Ofsted ratings of nursery schools impact on how well children do at school.

For this report, Jo Blanden and colleagues matched data on children’s outcomes at the end of Reception with information on nursery schools attended in the year before starting school for 1.6 million children born between September 2003 and August 2006. They found that children who attend a nursery school rated outstanding, or one employing one or more staff members who are graduates, do better at school, but the effects are very small. Having an employee at the nursery school who is a graduate, specifically a qualified teacher, raises children’s scores at age 5 and 7 by two percent of a standard deviation. Attending a nursery school rated outstanding is associated with a better performance in the Early Years Foundation Stage at age 5 of about four percent of a standard deviation.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood care and learning environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017:1.

Quality in early years settings and children’s school achievement (February 2017), The Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1468.

Examining teachers’ response to chaos in the classroom

An article co-authored by Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Lieny Jeon reports that teachers need emotional support to manage chaotic classrooms.

The finding comes from a study Jeon and her colleagues conducted that examined the role of teachers’ emotional abilities and classroom environments in how teachers respond to children’s negative emotions and disruptive behaviour. The researchers sampled 1,129 teachers working with pre-school pupils in child-care centres or public pre-K programmes (Reception) across the US. Using a survey, the teachers were asked to rate their perceptions of environmental chaos and their responsiveness to children in early childcare settings.

The researchers found that childcare chaos (eg, crowdedness, unpredictability and lack of routines and rules) was directly associated with teachers’ non-supportive reactions (eg, distress reactions and punitive reactions) after controlling for multiple programme and teacher characteristics. In addition, teachers in more chaotic childcare settings had less reappraisal and coping skills, which in turn was associated with lower levels of positive responsiveness to children.

The article suggests that intervention programmes are needed to address teachers’ coping and emotion regulation strategies in early childhood education.

Source: Child-care chaos and teachers’ responsiveness: The indirect associations through teachers’ emotion regulation and coping (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59:83-96

Motor skills development linked with school readiness

A study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport finds that preschool children who performed better on fine and gross motor skill assessments early in the school year were more likely to have better social behaviour and ability to pay attention, follow directions, and stay on task (known as “executive function”) later in the preschool year.

For the study Megan MacDonald and colleagues used a range of assessments to measure the fine and gross motor skills and the executive function and social behaviour of 92 children aged three- to five-years-old. The assessments were conducted in the autumn and again in the spring. Fine motor skills include visual motor integration, which includes activities such as stacking blocks, copying circles on a page, or playing with creative toys such as Lego or crayons. Gross motor skill development could include games and activities that require reciprocal play, and object manipulation skills such as ball games.

The results showed that children’s visual motor integration skills in the autumn of preschool had modest relations with their executive function scores assessed in the spring. Children who demonstrated better object manipulation skills in the autumn had statistically significant better social behaviour in their preschool classrooms in the spring, including more self-control, more co-operation, and less externalising/ hyperactivity. These findings have implications for early learning initiatives and school readiness, although additional research is needed to better understand how or why motor skills are linked.

Source: Relations of Preschoolers’ Visual-Motor and Object Manipulation Skills with Executive Function and Social Behavior (2016), Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

The positive impact of childcare starts early

A new study investigates the impact of childcare from birth to 51 months on children’s cognitive development at 51 months.

Published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, it used data from the Families, Children and Child Care study, which recorded the details of 978 children in London and Oxfordshire. Information on family demographics, the home environment, and duration and quality of childcare were captured at various time points. Cognitive ability at 51 months was measured using the British Ability Scales, which measures verbal ability (eg, verbal comprehension and naming vocabulary) and non-verbal ability (eg, pattern construction and picture similarities).

Group-based care was beneficial for cognitive development and non-verbal ability (but not verbal ability) before school entry. Home-based care, whether by paid or unpaid carers, relatives or non-relatives, had relatively little impact. The quality of group-based care had only marginal positive effects, although the sample size for this part of the study was small.

Unusually, the participants in the study included a substantial number of advantaged families. Professional families and mothers with university degrees were both associated with higher cognitive scores, but even taking those factors into account there was still a small but significant added value of group-based childcare.

Source: Amount and Timing of Group-Based Childcare from Birth and Cognitive Development at 51 Months (2016), International Journal of Behavioral Development.

What works for preschoolers?

A new systematic review of research on early childhood programmes in Educational Research Review has been published. The paper seeks to identify effective approaches capable of improving literacy and language outcomes for preschoolers.

Researchers from The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) and The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) applied consistent standards to determine the strength of evidence supporting a variety of approaches, which fell into two main categories: comprehensive approaches, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities, and developmental–constructivist approaches that focus on child-initiated activities with little direct teaching of early literacy skills. Inclusion criteria included use of randomised or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, a minimum study duration of 12 weeks, and valid measures of literacy and language.

Thirty-two studies evaluating 22 programmes found that early childhood programmes that have a balance of skill-focused and child-initiated activities had significant evidence of positive literacy and language outcomes at the end of preschool and on kindergarten (Year 1) follow-up measures. Effects on both types of measures were smaller and not statistically significant for developmental-constructivist programmes.

Source: Literacy and Language Outcomes of Comprehensive and Developmental-Constructivist Approaches to Early Childhood Education: A Systematic Review (2016), Educational Research Review.

Preschool maths and science professional development fails to improve learning

A new article published in the Journal of Educational Psychology describes a study into the impact of professional development on maths and science learning in early childhood education.

For the study, 65 staff from 34 varied early childhood settings in Ohio were randomly assigned to experience 10.5 days (64 hours) of training on maths and science or an alternative topic (art and creativity). The maths and science training was adapted from the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence, which provides a developmental progression based on early childhood research and theory.

The study looked at both maths and science learning opportunities, and the maths and science learning gains of the children (n=385). In terms of opportunities, the authors found that the professional development significantly impacted on the provision of science learning opportunities, but not maths. However, in terms of learning gains, none were observed.

The authors suggest a number of factors that may have contributed to the outcome. These include the fact that although educators were provided with hands-on opportunities to try new maths and science activities during training, there were no systematic means of ensuring they had regular opportunities to apply these in their classrooms. Also, that changes in practice may be difficult to achieve as the emphasis on these subject areas is relatively new in early childhood education.

Source: Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators: Efforts to Improve Math and Science Learning Opportunities in Early Childhood Classrooms (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2).