October 26, 2009

Good Daycare Is An Escape Route

Daycare that offers children living in poverty a chance to learn school-readiness skills and exposure to adult role models helps them keep pace with their wealthier peers.

By the time they enter school, young children living in poverty are already compromised in their ability to compete with their peers. By the time they reach fifth grade disadvantaged children are twice as likely as their economically advantaged peers to do poorly in math and reading. This is because they lack the school readiness skills that allow others to successfully meet the earliest educational challenges.

What are school readiness skills? Familiarity with letters and numbers; interest in books and reading; practice with following instructions, taking turns, listening and responding, manipulating age appropriate play materials such as blocks and crayons; participating in imaginary and creative play; and experiencing joy with exploration, learning, and discovery are all building blocks for effective learners.

The more time the children spent in high quality day care, the more they appeared to be protected from the negative impact of poverty on their educational success.

Is there something that can be done to compensate for impoverished home environments and promote school readiness and future success in children of poverty? A study published in the September/October issue of Child Development offers evidence that quality day care in the early years of a child's life makes a huge difference in a child's school success and can, in fact, compensate for an impoverished home environment.

The study followed a group of children born in 1991 with frequent interviews, developmental and achievement testing, a review of family socioeconomic status, and assessment of maternal sensitivity towards their children. The investigators found that not only did children who had attended high quality day care show improved levels of math and reading learning in middle school, but these improvements persisted into adolescence and ultimately predicted higher earning as adults. They found that the more time the children spent in high quality day care, the more they appeared to be protected from the negative impact of poverty on their educational success. In fact, as the amount of time in high quality day care increased, the achievement levels of some children of poverty became indistinguishable form their affluent peers.

The greatest benefits of higher quality day care were seen in the poorest children, although all groups demonstrated improvement. The researchers concluded that high quality day care provided the children with the stimulation that they lacked in their homes. When families are impoverished, the home environment often lacks the types of materials helpful for allowing a young child to learn, such as the alphabet and numbers, as well as age−appropriate play materials with which they can explore manipulating objects of varying shapes, sizes and textures. They also lack crayons, markers and paper to enjoy drawing scribbling and copying; and children's books and videos to stimulate early language and numbers skills. In addition, adults living in poverty have often lack parenting role models to inform their own behaviors.

High quality daycare can offer children a more enriched environment and role models to prepare them for their school years.The stimulation affected the development of their thinking and reasoning skills at a critical developmental period and provided the foundation for future learning. This is both exciting and reassuring information since it provides society with an additional avenue to positively impact children and decrease the inevitability of the cycle of poverty.

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