• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Monday 24th June, 2013

Does preschool prepare children for school?

strong>Advocates say that high-quality preschool environments prepare children for starting school. A recent study of more than 6,000 children finds only slight evidence to support the claim – and asks whether the typical measures of preschool quality are solid enough to detect the true effect.In this study, high quality preschools gave kids a small boost overall in language and mathematics, but did not notably improve average social skills or problem behaviors. Moreover, the study, led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found little evidence that high-quality preschool benefits some groups of children more than others. The question about the benefits of preschool is important. Young children often spend a lot of time in preschool, and the quality of the preschool environment is thought to be an important factor in young children’s development. It’s important in policy terms, too, since one of the immediate goals of a high quality preschool environment is to improve school readiness, especially for children from economically disadvantaged families. Language, mathematics, and social skills The researchers combined evidence from four large studies, each of which contained measures of preschool center quality and children’s school readiness. Overall, 6,250 children aged between three to five were involved. Measures used to assess quality and readiness included language skills, mathematics skills, social skills, cognitive skills, attention skills, and problem behaviors. High quality preschools did improve children’s development of language and math skills compared to lower-quality centers, but only very modestly. In both cases, the boost was most noticeable for those children who had highly educated mothers, rather than those children whose mothers had 12 years or less of schooling. Although preschool quality was not related to social skill development on average, high quality preschools did help to develop the social skills of children whose mothers had a high school degree or less, and improved the social skills of those children who entered preschool with lower cognitive skills. Finally, there was no evidence that the quality of preschool had an impact on problem behaviors. The researchers also looked for evidence that high quality preschools particularly benefited groups of children – by race, gender, their skills and behaviors at the start of the study, and their parents’ education – and found little evidence of differential benefits.Importantly, these modest results may not undermine the argument for high quality preschool. Rather, they may point to the challenges of measuring the quality of childcare. “Quality” can refer to a range of things, from the warmth of relationships with teachers, to cognitive and linguistic stimulation. Many factors impact on children’s readiness for school, and the current measures may not accurately capture this. If the measures of quality are not well suited to this type of research, then the statistical results will be small – not because preschool quality is unimportant, but because the quality measures do not capture it. *********Reference:Keys, T., Farkas, G., Burchinal, M., Duncan, G., Vandell, D., Welin, L., Ruzek, E., & Howes, C. (2013). Preschool Center Quality and School Readiness: Quality Effects and Variation by Demographic and Child Characteristics. Child Development. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12048

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