Graeme Paton, Education Editor for the Telegraph, wrote on October 16, 2013 that “academics at Oxford University discovered that exposure to some forms of early education contributed to bad behavior and could be linked to emotional problems.” As an opening sentence in his above-linked article, that’s a statement that will hopefully make all working parents stop in their tracks and wonder “Is my child’s daycare helping or hindering him or her from meeting full potential as a human being?”
Paton goes on to say that “the study, based on an analysis of infants from almost 1,000 families, showed that the strongest influence on children came from within the home itself.” Researchers assessed children age 4 through questionnaires about their behavior and emotions completed by teachers and parents. Researchers also observed care provided by mothers as well as non-parental care for at least 90 minutes for those children placed in formal childcare settings. The study revealed that children raised in poor families were most at risk for developing emotional difficulties and attention-deficit problems, especially hyperactivity, by the time they started school. In addition, the research uncovered the following trends relating to children who were in formal child care –away from their parents– and children who were at home either with parents or a nanny:
- The report, published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development, said that “children who spent more time in group care, mainly nursery care, were more likely to have behavioural problems, particularly hyperactivity”.
- The study, led by Prof Alan Stein, of Oxford’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that “spending more time in day care centres, over the total period was a predictor of total problem scores”.
- “Children who spent more time in day care centres were more likely to be hyperactive,” it said. “Children receiving more care by childminders were more likely to have peer problems.”
- The authors added: “The findings in relation to childminding suggest that it might be out of home care rather than group care that raises the risk of behavioural difficulties.”
- Reseachers found that children who spent more time in pre-school playgroups – normally for a few hours a day, rather than a full-time nursery – had fewer problems.
- More time with a nanny in parents’ own home predicted higher levels of “pro-social behaviour”, showing willingness to help others, it emerged.
Paton provides the following summary to the study:
The study said: “These findings suggest that interventions to enhance children’s emotional and behavioural development might best focus on supporting families and augmenting the quality of care in the home.”
Once again, we find that too many children are not receiving the best care and start in life possible, especially those from poor families. An op-ed column titled “Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?” in the NY Times, written by Nicholas D. Kristof and published on October 26, 2013 , supports the above research and the notion that poor kids end up losing out in terms of school readiness, as does so much other available research about the importance of early learning for success in school and life. In the article, Kristof tells readers:
Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.
He also shares the following with readers:
The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.
One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.
Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.
Early intervention with poor children and parents work. Kristof tells us “the earliest interventions are cheap and end at age 2” as well as that “in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.” Although Head Start data shows that early educational gains fade by second or third grade, Kristof writes that long-term follow-ups have shown there are “life skill” gains that don’t, such as evidenced in “a rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard” which “found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.”
As Kristof reminds us, “we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.” But, he emphasizes that we, the people of the United States, have to get involved since infants, toddlers and preschoolers can’t vote and have no highly-paid lobbyists to fight for them on Capitol Hill. As he says, “it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.”