Positive results for school-readiness intervention

A study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly reports on a randomised controlled trial of an intervention designed to improve the quality of teaching in early childhood education and increase children’s school readiness.

“Play and Learn” is a low-cost, 20-week, teacher-delivered early childhood education programme that targets both teacher and child skills. For teachers, the intervention aims to improve their teaching and interactive skills. The aim of the intervention for children is to improve their language and maths skills and increase school readiness.

The randomised controlled trial involved 1,116 children ages 18-36 months who were enrolled in 87 childcare centres in Denmark. Childcare centres were randomised to either an intervention or control group, with childcare centres in the intervention group implementing Play and Learn. Teachers implementing the intervention programme received training materials and tools to support their teaching and help them to be more explicit and intentional in their interactions with children to target language, maths language and numeracy skills.

The results of the study showed that the intervention had a positive short-term impact on children’s language and maths skills relative to control-group children in all four areas examined: general vocabulary (ES = +0.27), language use (ES = +0.19), maths language (ES = +0.80) and numeracy (ES = +0.55). However, children receiving the Play and Learn intervention did not improve skills relative to the control group on measures of social-emotional skills (self-regulation and cooperation = +0.12; empathy = 0.00).

Source: Low-cost teacher-implemented intervention improves toddlers’ language and math skills (March 2020), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 53, 4th Quarter 2020

Parents as Teachers in Switzerland

A randomised controlled trial published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly examines the effectiveness of the Parents as Teachers (PAT) programme in Zurich, Switzerland.

PAT is a parent teaching programme that begins during pregnancy, or shortly after birth, and continues until the child’s third birthday. Among its goals, PAT aims to increase parental knowledge of early childhood development and improve parental practice and, in the long term, increase the child’s school readiness and success.

A total of 261 children from 248 families took part in the trial. Families in the intervention group (n=132) were supported with regular home visits from qualified parent educators with a degree in early education, and attended group meetings. The 116 families in the control group had access to the normal community services but were not supported by PAT.

After three years of the PAT programme, children showed more age-appropriate adaptive behaviour, with small effect sizes in both self-help skills (ES = +0.26) and developmental milestones (ES = +0.26). There were also positive effects on children’s language skills – particularly expressive language skills (ES = +0.39). PAT was also found to positively affect children’s problem behaviour (ES = +0.30).

By contrast, however, no meaningful increases were observed in children’s health, cognitive development, or motor development.

Source: Effects of home-based early intervention on child outcomes: A randomized controlled trial of Parents as Teachers in Switzerland (May 2019), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 48

Self-regulation intervention improves school readiness

Adding a self-regulation intervention to a school readiness programme can improve self-regulation, early academic skills and school readiness in children at higher risk for later school difficulties, according to the results of a study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Robert J Duncan and colleagues looked at the effect of adding a self-regulation intervention to the Bridge to Kindergarten (B2K) programme – a three-week summer school-readiness programme – in the US state of Oregon. The B2K programme is aimed at children with no prior preschool experience, and therefore considered to be at risk for later school difficulties.

Children from three to five years old were randomly assigned to either a control group (B2K only) or the intervention group (B2K plus intervention). Children in the intervention group received two 20- to 30-minute sessions per week, involving movement and music-based games that encouraged them to practise self-regulation skills.

Results from this randomised controlled trial indicated that children who received the intervention scored higher on measures of self-regulation than children who participated in the B2K programme alone. There were no significant effects on maths or literacy at the end of the programme. However, four months into kindergarten, children from the intervention group showed increased growth in self-regulation, maths and literacy compared to expected development.

Source: Combining a kindergarten readiness summer program with a self-regulation intervention improves school readiness (November 2017) Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 42, 1st Quarter 2018

Least restrictive…for whom?

Numerous studies show the academic and social benefits for children with emotional and behavioural disorders (EBD) of including them in classes with children who do not have these issues. Few studies, however, examine the effects of this inclusion on their non-disabled classmates.

Given that children who have EBD often cause disruptions, and that disruptions are associated with reduced student engagement, Michael Gottfried, Anna Egalite, and J Jacob Kirksey recently examined the correlation between the absentee rate of non-disabled kindergartners (Year 1) who had peers with EBD in their classrooms with those who didn’t.

Subjects were the nationally representative sample of kindergartners used in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 2010-2011, a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Results showed more annual absences in classes that included peers with an EBD than in classes that didn’t. The incidences of chronic absence were also higher for students who had an EBD classmate. Patterns emerged for absent students: girls were more likely to be absent than boys, as were non-ELL and higher-income students. Patterns also emerged showing that students with EBD classmates were less likely to be absent when they had teachers with more experience, teachers certified in special education, or teachers who spent more time on discipline. They found that including children with other types of disabilities did not cause the same types of disruptions as including those with EBDs.

Source: Does the Presence of a Classmate with Emotional/behavioral Disabilities Link to Other Students’ Absences in Kindergarten? (2016), Early Childhood Research Quarterly 

What counts for future success in maths?

Which preschool maths competencies are most important for later maths achievement? A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly attempts to answer this question for low-income and minority children.

The research looked at 781 children who completed the Research-based Early Mathematics Assessment (REMA) in preschool and a further maths assessment in fifth grade. The children came from diverse classrooms in New York and Boston, with 53% of the children African-American and 83% qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

Using state-defined preschool mathematics standards documents, the researchers classified the REMA into a number of domains of mathematical knowledge:

  • Counting and cardinality – basic counting (rote counting, number recognition, one-to-one correspondence) and advanced counting (cardinality, counting forward and back)
  • Patterning – extend and duplicate patterns
  • Geometry – identify, compare, and compose shapes
  • Measurement and data – recognize shapes and identify their attributes by measurement

All the domains were significantly predictive of later achievement, suggesting that children rely on multiple domains of early knowledge when developing later skills. However, counting and numeracy skills, particularly advanced counting skills, were most predictive of later achievement. Early numeracy was predictive of later mathematics achievement while also controlling measurement and data, geometry, and patterning. This suggests that, at least for this group of children, early numeracy was the most predictive of later mathematics ability.

Source: Which preschool mathematics competencies are most predictive of fifth grade achievement? (2016), Early Childhood Research Quarterly

INSIGHTS on socioeconomic disadvantage and challenging temperaments

A paper on the impact of the INSIGHTS programme looks at its effect on the behaviour of kindergarten and first grade (Year 1 and Year 2) children in the US with high-maintenance temperaments. The goal of the INSIGHTS programme (which we have covered previously) is to train teachers and parents to recognise children’s personality types and adjust the learning environment as needed.

Data collected at five time points using direct observations, teacher reports, and parent reports revealed moderate impacts on reducing disruptive behaviours (effect size 0.42) and off-task behaviours (effect size 0.33) and increasing behavioural engagement (effect size 0.35). These effects were larger than in a previous study, which led the authors to consider whether children at highest risk (such as in the current study) were most likely to benefit from such interventions.

Source: Getting a Good Start in School: Effects of INSIGHTS on Children with High Maintenance Temperaments (2015), Early Childhood Research Quarterly