The collection of research digests available here covers a variety of issues to do with Early Years education.
The summaries below highlight the main themes within six of these digests. The full digests give much more detailed information on the studies, their findings and also some suggested implications for practitioners. You can also use the resources and references within the digests to look for more research on this topic.
Inequality in early cognitive development analysed data from children born in 1970, taken from tests given at 22 months, 42 months, 5 years and 10 years. It was shown that pre-school development tests provide a strong indication of later educational success at age 26. The influence of social class in this process was significant. For children who showed low attainment at 22 months, those with a high socio-economic status tended to catch up with their peers by age 10, whilst those with a low socio-economic status were still likely to have low attainment at age 10. The study suggests that the best way of identifying the most at-risk children may be by looking at the mother's level of education.
Parental involvement in the development of children's reading skills looked at whether storybook reading and informal teaching of letters and sounds by parents had an effect on children's progress from age four to nine. The study found that both of these parental activities had a direct and an indirect contribution to their children becoming fluent readers. More specifically, reading storybooks with parents helped to develop oral language skills and consequently reading skills; however, storybook reading may not be enough on its own to foster early word-reading skills. Informal teaching of print did support early word-reading skills, which was indirectly related to reading attainment at age three; but the study did not determine how far parents should pursue this. The study suggests that it is important for parents to continue to read to their child, and also that parental involvement is even more important when their children are at risk of failure because of social, economic or cognitive difficulties.
The influence of early childhood education on longer term outcomes is also looked at by another study, The long-term contribution of early childhood education to children's performance. There are three factors that particularly contribute to performance at age 10: the length of early education experiences, its quality (especially in the area of teacher-child interaction), and the socio-economic mix of their final early education centre. Children who had three or more years of early childhood education tended to have higher scores in several areas at age 10. There were also positive links between attainment at age 10 in maths, literacy, social skills, perseverance and logical problem solving and the following features of early education:
Again, socio-economic mix of the centre's families had a long-term influence, accounting for up to 15 per cent of the children's scores at age 10. The authors suggest that high quality provision should be targeted in particular at children from areas with low socio-economic status.
The authors also point out that children do not need to be able to read before they start school, but they need to be familiar with print and the idea of symbols.
The impact of teacher-directed and child-directed pretend play investigated two types of pretend play in pre-school education: teacher-directed play, where the teacher directs a play activity for the whole class and models how the children are supposed to behave; and child-directed play, where after an initial stimulus from the teacher children are free to play in small, flexible groups. The researchers point out that pretend play is important because it involves social interaction, thinking skills and symbolic actions. Of the two types of pretend play identified:
Mixed-age classes had a positive effect on children's social development and thinking skills.
In conclusion, the digest suggests that both types of play are important, and that mixed-age groups should be encouraged.
Problem-solving skills are investigated by Learning from their mistakes, which used two related tests to reveal the symbolic functioning of children aged from 30 to 36 months. One test involved the researcher placing a token inside one of the pockets on a small teddy bear, and seeing if the child could find the token in the same place on an identical, but larger teddy bear. Clear differences between the youngest and the oldest children were found. The youngest children did not use their prior knowledge of the small teddy bear to help them find the token on the large teddy bear; instead they opened the pockets randomly in a trial-and-error way. The oldest children, on the other hand, demonstrated symbolic functioning by retrieving the token correctly every time, using appropriate reasoning. The 'middle-aged' children often showed the same symbolic functioning, but tended to rely on trial-and-error as a first resort. The authors suggest that frequent experience of symbols in their daily lives is important in developing children's symbolic functioning, and suggest ways in which carers and educators can encourage this development (for details, see the full digest).
The role of friendship on transfer to new entry classes at school is considered by I didn't expect that I would get tons of friends, which concludes that children benefit from having established friendships on transfer, in terms of motivation, social development and providing a supportive social context for learning. Parents can help children make friends at school by finding out which other children are going to be starting school at the same time and encouraging friendships to develop between them. Schools can help by allowing mixed-age friendship groups (for role models and protection); by pairing younger children with older children at lunchtime; and by avoiding 'lining up in pairs', because this highlights isolation. Everyone involved with this age group (parents, teachers, lunchtime supervisors etc) should take a proactive role in encouraging friendships and minimising the impact of not having a friend.
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