Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Fostering curiosity can promote academic achievement

A new research article by Prachi Shah and colleagues at the University of Michigan shows that children who are curious have higher academic achievement than those who aren’t. In fact, they see cultivating curiosity in the classroom—promoting the joy of discovery and motivating pupils to find out answers to life’s questions—as an untapped strategy for early academic success.

Researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which has tracked thousands of children since 2001. Children were followed via parent interviews and assessing the children at ages 9 months, 2 years, in pre-K (reception) and kindergarten (Year 1), and then looking at the reading, maths and behavioural skills of 6,200 of these children in 2006 and 2007 when they were in kindergarten. After controlling for other factors that might influence academic achievement, results showed that eagerness to learn new things had a small but positive influence on kindergartners’ reading (effect size=+0.11) and maths (+0.12). This was even more so for children from low SES backgrounds (effect size=+0.18 in reading, +0.20 in maths).

Source: Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement (April 2018), Pediatric Research

Conversation more important than word exposure for literacy and language development

While it is common knowledge that talking to children helps them develop language and pre-literacy skills, new research from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania shows that children gain greater language development and pre-literacy benefits the more that caregivers engage them in conversational turn-taking-like exchanges. In other words, talking with children is more beneficial than talking to children.

In the first study to link children’s language exposure to neural functioning, functional MRIs showed that children who experienced more frequent conversational turn-taking with caregivers while listening to stories demonstrated greater activity within the part of the brain in charge of language processing than children who didn’t interact in as many conversational exchanges. These same children also scored higher than their counterparts on standardised language assessments measuring vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. This was true regardless of children’s socioeconomic status or parental education.

Audio recordings of 36 four- to six-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds measured the number of words children said, the number of words they heard and the number of conversational exchanges in which they engaged for two days. All children were native English speakers who did not significantly differ by behaviour, language exposure, or neural measures on standardised tests. When these measures were compared to the brain scans, researchers found a positive correlation between conversational turns and brain physiology.

Source: Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function (February 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742725

A review of the evidence on early language development

A new review of the evidence on early language development, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with Public Health England, has examined the most effective ways to support young children with delays in their early language development between birth and five years old.

James Law and colleagues looked at the existing evidence to find out which interventions have the greatest potential for boosting young children’s language skills and reducing inequalities in outcomes. They identified 44 intervention studies which focused on language and related skills in pre-school. All the studies were randomised controlled trials or quasi-experimental, matched study designs. Positive effect sizes were found in relation to receptive language in 29 studies. They found one of the best ways to improve early language development for this group is by training teachers in early years settings so that they can deliver cost-effective and evidence-based interventions to those children who have fallen behind.

In addition to high-quality early years provision, the researchers identified interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interaction between parents and their children before they start pre-school.

The report also stresses the need for better monitoring of children’s progress at different stages of their development, to catch those children falling behind and to identify those who need targeted, specialised support.

Source: Early Language Development: Needs, provision and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantage backgrounds (October 2017), Public Health England and Education Endowment Foundation

Early years childcare and cognitive and socioemotional development at age three

From September 2013, two-year-old children living in the 20% most disadvantaged households in the UK became eligible for 15 hours of funded early childhood education and care (ECEC) per week. This was extended in September 2014 to two-year-old children living in the 40% most disadvantaged households. The longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) followed the progress of children from approximately 6,000 families, from ages two to seven, to help provide the Department for Education (DfE) with evidence on the effectiveness of early years education.

This latest DfE impact study presents findings for 4,583 children from the SEED longitudinal study and focuses on the relationship between the amount and type of ECEC between age two and three and children’s cognitive and socioemotional development at age three. After controlling for home environment and demographic factors, the amount of ECEC received between the ages of two and three was found to be associated with cognitive and socioemotional developmental benefits. There was also evidence that ECEC is associated with higher cognitive verbal ability (naming vocabulary). The study also found that children who participated in more than 35 hours of ECEC per week between two- and three-years-old had higher levels of conduct problems and lower levels of emotional self-regulation than children receiving less than two hours a week, although this group of children comprised only 3.25% of the sample (149 children). The researchers note that the children who received more than 35 hours of ECEC between two- and three-years-old were also more likely to have started early (ie, during the first year of life), and that this early start combined with high use when aged two to three is a significant factor behind these effects.

Source: Study of early education and development (SEED): Impact study on early education use and child outcomes up to age three. Research report (July 2017), Department for Education. Reference: DFE-RR706

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.