Every parent wants their kid to have the best conditions to develop and thrive. Special preschool programs have long been known to contribute to the child’s further success in this life. Yet scientists hardly have information about how spending time with neighbors, relatives and nannies and under other informal arrangements affects children’s performance. A new Harvard study is supposed to help find it out.
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Not enough evidence
If Americans were asked whether they would like their child to have high-quality state-provided early education, it would be very hard to find someone who would refuse such an offer. Yet the debates about possible introduction of a high-quality preschool level of education have not been fruitful: universal preschool of high quality remains a dream, even for many developmental psychologists who strive to make this dream come true. However, the authorities and politicians (at least many of them) are not of the same opinion and treat the idea as the one not worth the investment.
That is why two professors from Harvard, N. Lesaux and S. Jones, have set out on a long journey to find out how the care and educational settings correlate with the skills and further performance of a child. Their project, known as Early Learning Study, implies following about 5,000 kids of 3 or 4 years of age to see what links there are between the conditions in which they are brought up and their development. The study is supposed to last 4 years as its first stage, with possible further extension to pre- and post-elementary school years and, perhaps, even adulthood. The scientists hope that the study findings will help convince the authorities that universal early education is a thing worth spending money on, because most of the evidence they have is outdated and incomplete, as it’s based on the findings of the studies carried out a long time ago, in the 60s, and focused mostly on licensed centers providing early education services.
The project has already been launched, and representatives of the Harvard partner company are recruiting families to participate in the study. The first stage is a household survey. Many of those who agreed to contribute the information decided to participate because they wanted to know how their child is developing.
The scientists aim to find correlations between developmental settings and such skills as the skill of literacy, vocabulary and language skills, and other aspects of their knowledge, including early math. The focus on informal care settings and emotional and social development of children (which will be assessed by means of analysis of the children’s relationships with peers and adults) can help the researchers find out what skills persist and which ones fade as soon as the child starts going to school.
What is meant by ‘education of high quality?
As the statistics suggests, only 60% of American children attend preschool of some kind, and an even smaller group of 20% has access to high quality preschool education. This term means that the features of such a type of education include great caregiver competence, small group sizes, and enough adults to take care of the kids, as this ratio also affects the quality of the education process.
The professors also noted that children who come from families on a low income seem to benefit from quality early education more than others do. The adversities kids from vulnerable social groups have to face affect their academic performance, and providing them with excellent care and educational settings can benefit not only their academic performance and school readiness, but also their development as a person.
The team believes the study will help all children regardless of family income have high quality education.
Early Learning Study at Harvard – Zaentz.gse.harvard.edu
The NICHD Study of early child care and Youth Development – Nichd.nih.gov