Short-term academic benefits from early childhood programmes

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly has analysed the academic benefits of different types of formal early childhood programmes for children ages 4 and 5 in Australia. This included pre-year 1 (the first year of full-time formal schooling), school-based preschool, stand-alone preschool, and centre-based child care.

Children who did not attend any early childhood programmes lagged behind their peers in school readiness skills. However, by middle childhood all the early skill advantages had disappeared, showing rapid fadeout of academic benefits acquired from these specific types of early childhood programmes.

Of those who did attend programmes, the authors found that children who attended pre-year 1 held an initial, significant advantage in early academic skills, which they consider unsurprising as pre-year 1 is full-time formal schooling. The authors found little difference in terms of early academic skills between either type of preschool programme and centre child care, but there are difficulties in direct comparison. Although teachers in preschools have higher average qualifications compared to child care centres, preschool children spend far fewer hours in their programmes.

The data used in the research came from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). LSAC follows two cohorts of children, an infant cohort of children born between March 2003 and February 2004, and a child cohort who were between 4- and 5-years-old in 2004. Only the child cohort was used in this analysis, a nationally representative sample of 4,983 children.

Source: The Role of Early Childhood Settings for 4–5 year-old Children in Early Academic Skills and Later Achievement in Australia, Early Childhood Research Quarterly 29(4).

Maternal supportiveness boosts school readiness

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly investigates two aspects of children’s school readiness: interest in new cognitive tasks and persistence in task completion. The study examined these two behaviours at ages one, two, and three in a large multi-site sample, using data on 1,771 low-income children taken from the US Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. The authors looked at whether interest and persistence are linked to academic skills at school entry, and found that children’s interest and persistence at age three predicted academic achievement at age five.

The article also explored the impact of parenting on these behaviours. During videotaped play sessions, mothers were rated on scales of sensitivity (taking the child’s perspective, accurate perception of the child’s signals, prompt and appropriate responses to these signals), and stimulation of cognitive development (teaching or actively trying to expand the child’s abilities). The authors found that maternal supportiveness predicted higher levels of interest and persistence between the ages of one and three, with both behaviours more responsive to parenting between ages one and two than two and three.

Children from underprivileged backgrounds generally enter school lagging behind their peers on a range of indicators. The article concludes that although relatively little attention has been paid to the early development of these particular learning behaviours – interest and persistence – they might prove worthy of intervention before school entry, particularly when children are aged one

Source: Longitudinal Associations Among Interest, Persistence, Supportive Parenting, and Achievement in Early Childhood (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.

It’s good to talk

Syntax is an important aspect of children’s early literacy development, according to the authors of a new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly. However, the rate at which children develop syntax reflects, at least in part, their care-giving environment. This study looks at patterns of child–teacher talk within preschool classrooms, an important developmental context for young children and particularly those from low socio-economic households.

The research found that the children’s use of complex syntax appeared to be influenced by the teachers’ use of complex syntax, but also vice versa. Children’s use of complex or simple syntax increased the likelihood that teachers would mirror their syntactic level. The authors suggest this work, based on data from a larger study, is a step towards addressing issues that may have direct, translatable implications for early education practice and intervention efforts.

One of the authors, Laura Justice, has also contributed an article to the latest issue of Better: Evidence-based Education which focuses on literacy (Spring 2013). The article, Improving Children’s Language Skills Through Classroom Conversations, describes the evaluation of a project to train teachers to provide advanced language models to help prevent later reading difficulties.

Source: Bi-directional Dynamics Underlie the Complexity of Talk in Teacher–child Play-based Conversations in Classrooms Serving At-risk Pupils (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(3).

Children who learn to read later do catch up

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly shows that by age 10, children who had learned to read at seven (in Steiner schools) had caught up with those learning to read at five. Later starters had no long-term disadvantages.

The article presents the results of two New Zealand studies, one employing three pairs of longitudinal samples and the other cross-sectional, spanning the first six years of school, for pupils who learned to read at either five or seven years. Analyses accounted for receptive vocabulary, reported parental income and education, school/community affluence, classroom teaching, home literacy environment, reading self-concept, and age.

Source: Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1)

Summer school literacy programme stops pupils slipping back

Pupils who went to summer school had improved their literacy performance at the end of the summer. This randomised trial, from Early Childhood Research Quarterly, examined the effects of a summer literacy programme on struggling readers in the US where summer holidays are longer.

Overall, pupils who didn’t attend summer school showed mean declines in the reading of nonsense words (a standard test of fluency) of approximately five words per minute over the summer. Children who attended summer school at the end of Kindergarten (Year 1) had a fluency gain of approximately 12 words-per-minute. Pupils at the end of Grade 1 (Year 2) had a fluency gain of 7.5 words per minute.

The findings are generally consistent with previous studies of summer school effects and the summer learning outcomes of children, and suggest that summer school can be a useful strategy to support learning over the summer months.

Source: Summer school effects in a randomized field trial (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28(1)