Abstract There has been a great deal of research conducted in the subject matter of early childhood education. During the preschool years, the human brain is growing rapidly and extremely sensitive to new information. Researchers have conducted studies in an effort to show a correlation between enrollment in early education and cognitive and social development. This paper will provide a brief overview of the results from the following: the Head Start program studies, the High/Scope Perry Preschool study, and the Child Parent Center in Chicago. This paper will also discuss the impact of childcare facilities on child development.
The vast amount of research provided by these studies effectively shows an increase in cognitive development in the preschoolers that were enrolled and found that negative social behaviors were reduced as a result of early education intervention. The research indicates that all children exhibited signs of cognitive and social growth, but that underprivileged children were impacted the most. Child- care facilities were not as productive furthering childhood development. This paper will conclude by addressing the need of well-developed preschool programs and the need for well-educated teachers in the preschool environment.
Keywords: early childhood education, preschool, cognitive and social development Early Childhood Education: Impact on Cognitive and Social Development Preschool is a term that defines early childhood education for children ranging from ages two through four years old. Preschool programs normally consist of federally funded programs, state and local preschools, and child care facilities. Preschool enrollment has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Approximately 75% of four year olds and 50% of three year olds are enrolled in a preschool center, which is a statistically significant contrast from 10% in the 1960’s (Barnett, 2008).
Not only has there been an increase of children enrolled in public preschools, but also in private preschools (Barnett, 2008). This increase may be attributed to the need for childcare as the work force shifted from a single income to dual income household or the desire to equip children with the necessary skills to help them in their educational career (Barnett & Yarosz, 2007). Winter and Kelley (2008) reported that many early childhood teachers found that nearly one-third of their students were deficient in certain areas that were sure to hinder their educational success (p.260).
There have been many studies conducted to try and define the impact of preschool on a child’s development. Researchers have studied Head Start programs across the country, the High/Scope Perry Preschool, the Child Parent Center in Chicago among others, and child care facilities. Early Childhood Education research has shown that preschool has an impact on a child’s cognitive and social development, with the greatest impact on minority and disadvantaged children. Developing Brain.
Most parents and educators know that a child’s brain, from birth to approximately five years of age, is exceptionally vulnerable to the learning of new skills and concepts. Winter and Kelley (2008) state that the “neural connections or ‘synapses’ develop at a phenomenal rate during this time” which aids in developing a “foundation for later skill acquisition” (p. 263). Due to the brains extreme susceptibility during the preschool years, not only do preschoolers develop cognitive skills they need, but also socio-emotional skills.
Mai, Tardif, Doan, Liu, Gehring, and Luo (2011) conducted a study of positive and negative feedback in preschoolers, which showed that preschoolers are “more responsive to positive feedback than to negative feedback” (p. 5). They concluded that the importance of the amount of positive feedback was significant enough that it may stimulate preschoolers desire to learn (Mai, et al, 2011). Researchers have found that during this early period of childhood development, children are able to boost gross motor skills and acquire language (Winter & Kelley, 2008, p.
262). Due to the unique nature of the brain during preschool years, experiences or lack of can impede child development (Winter & Kelley, 2008, p. 263). In a study conducted by Burger (2012), a toddler’s working memory can positively impact a child’s behavior and has a positive influence over a child’s math and reading ability (p. 210). A young child’s brain, if stimulated inappropriately, can have an adverse impact on cognitive and social development. A child’s cognitive development is connected to their social development.
Willis and Schiller (2011) propose that “positive early experiences promote optimum brain development, which impacts all areas of development (para. 1). Impact of Government Preschool Programs In 1965, the Head Start program was created in an effort to provide “an array of social, health, and educational services for young children and their families” (Winter & Kelley, 2008, p. 261). This program is federally funded and targets underprivileged children. Underprivileged children are more susceptible to fall behind or to not complete their education due to lack of early education intervention.
There is documentation that shows that minorities and poor children struggle with “language, literacy, social, and other skills needed” (Child Trends & Center for Child Health Research, 2004; Early et al, 2007), than children who are not underprivileged (Winter & Kelley, 2008, p. 260). Burger (2009) reports that a majority of children from low socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to: experience grade repetition, to require additional educational assistance throughout their school career, or ultimately become high school dropouts (p. 142).
Ludwig and Phillips (2007) reported the findings of an evaluation completed by Garces, Thomas, and Currie (2002) that compared siblings, either attending or not attending the Head Start Program (p. 4). They wrote that the sibling that attended Head Start were 22% more likely to graduate and 19% more likely to seek higher education (p. 4). The National Impact Study (NIS) is one of the most in depth study on the Head Start program, and involves a random compilation of children enrolled in Head Start throughout the country between the ages of three and four years old (Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009, p. 59).
This study showed that there was minor cognitive and social growth over a nine month period. Barnett (2008) reported an increase of 0. 20 standard deviations on cognitive development and a decrease of 0. 05 standard deviations in negative social behavior, such as hyperactivity for three year olds (p. 6). However, upon completing a follow up on the study, the cognitive benefits gained by the children were no longer observed at the end of their kindergarten school year (Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009, p. 59).
Parents reported positive changes in their child’s dental and physical health and the research indicates an increase of 0. 12 standard deviations (Barnett, 2008, p. 6). There was a case of four year olds that experienced greater cognitive development. This was illustrated by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which had an increase of 0. 20-0. 27 standard deviations (Barnett, 2008, p. 7). The Tulsa Head Start program was designed with a vision to help children develop skills for school readiness.
This preschool program is funded by the state and is a part of the Tulsa Public School system; therefore, teachers must possess a Bachelor of Art degree and have a certification in early childhood education (Gormley, Phillips, & Gayer, 2008). The Tulsa Head Start program study compared the Tulsa Public School (TSP) pre-kindergarten against the Tulsa Head Start program. The study showed that the TSP pre-kindergarteners showed vast improvement in letter-word identification, spelling, and applied problems, whereas the Tulsa Head Start preschoolers’ results were deemed notable (Gormley, Phillips, & Gayer, 2008).
While Head Start programs are supposed to adhere to a “national standard” (Pianta, et al, 2009), many do not have the same requirements (p. 55). Pianta and his colleagues (2009) explain that most teachers working for Head Start programs make less than $26,000 per year, with the exception of Tulsa Head Start whose teachers earn a regular teacher salary (p. 55). This may explain why the results of the Tulsa Head Start studies are not typical compared to other Head Start studies (Barnett, 2008, p. 7). Teacher qualifications of the Head Start employees may have an impact on the low levels of development observed of children in the program.
Before 2011 Head Start teachers (excluding the Tulsa Head Start teachers) were not required to obtain an associate degree and directors did not have to possess a bachelor degree (Pianta, et al, 2009). However, Pianta and his colleagues (2009) report that by the year 2013, at least half of all Head Start teachers will be required to obtain a bachelor’s degree (p. 55). Because the Head Start studies were conducted in varying locations and on a variety of children, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact impact of cognitive and social development for each child.
The rate of attendance also varies on location. Some Head Start programs have fewer than five days of scheduled class per week, while others attend the program five days a week during an entire school year (Pianta, et al, 2009, p. 54). Major successes of the Head Start programs appear to be achieving higher educational levels and improved health for children. The Head Start program reduced the mortality rate of children between the ages of five and nine years old (Barnett, 2008, p. 8) and provided a cognitive advantage in school achievement (Reynolds & Ou, 2011, p.
556). There were no extraordinary impacts on children’s social development throughout the Head Start studies. The program, however, has received conflicting reviews. Williams (2010) explains that because there is no orderly way to measure the effects of this program, there have been reports of positive “short-term gains in cognitive functioning” (p. 4) and the program has received criticism for only producing short term benefits (Williams, 2010, p. 4). Impact of Public Preschool Another option for children is a public preschool program.
There are public preschools that function similar to the Head Start program, in which they target children from low income families. The teaching credentials of preschool teachers differ from other educators in the public school system and vary throughout different states. The requirements for public preschool teachers range from possessing a Child Development Associate (CDA) to a bachelor’s degree (Pianta, et al, 2009, p. 55). Public preschool programs tend to be successful in the area of cognitive and social development due to the increase of attention from the teacher (Barnett, 2008, p.8).
The topic of teacher quality in preschools is of a major concern and can have a direct impact on childhood development. Winter and Kelley (2008) explain that the development of a child’s social behavior correlates with the quality of the teacher (p. 263). The most significant research on public preschools stems from the High/Scope Perry Preschool study. In this study that lasted for two years, approximately 130 children, minority and underprivileged, were either enrolled in a half-day preschool or assigned to a control group (Barnett, 2008, p. 9).
These participants were chosen by the following criteria: “low levels of parent education, socioeconomic status, and low intellectual performance” (Williams, 2010, p. 4). The results were astounding. Barnett (2008) reported that language and basic cognitive skills increased by approximately 0. 90 standard deviations (p. 9). The cognitive advantage was short-lived as children from the control group were caught up during kindergarten (Barnett, 2008, p. 9); however, Reynolds and Ou (2011) determined that there was an advantage on educational attainment (p. 556).
The Perry study also showed evidence of social development in later years. The students demonstrated appropriate classroom etiquette, had lower levels of delinquency, and a higher rate of commencement (Barnett, 2008, p. 9). Burger (2009) explained that the Perry study is unique in nature due to the environment of the classroom (para. 5. 2). He added that preschools similar to the Perry preschool have “low child-to-staff ratios” (Burger, 2009, para. 5. 2), so teachers are able to be readily available to their students. Another influential study on preschool impact is the Child Parent Center (CPC) study on a preschool in Chicago.
This program was directed more for children from the ages of three to nine years old (Williams, 2010, p. 5). This preschool is tailored to low-income families that includes “a half-day preschool, kindergarten, and a follow-on elementary school component” (Barnett, 2008, p. 11). The results of all CPC studies were positive for impact on children’s cognitive development (Barnett, 2008, p. 12). The CPC study showed that participating preschoolers had higher test scores up until eighth grade, a reduction of delinquency, and observed an increase in the percentage of high school graduates (Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009,p. 62).
Reynolds and Ou (2011) also evaluated the CPC study and found that former students tend to have less risk of experiencing depression and generally have higher occupational stature (p. 558). The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reports that the Abbott Preschool Program has had a tremendous effect on child development as measured in 2005 and 2006 with the Abbot Preschool Program Longitudinal Study (APPLES) (Study of Abbott, 2007). The Abbott Preschool was opened in 1999 and was put in place to serve the “highest-poverty school districts” (Study of Abbott, 2007) in the state of New Jersey (Study of Abbott, 2007).
This preschool program showed positive cognitive growth in their students through their kindergarten year. The students enrolled showed significant achievements in English, reading, and mathematics (Study of Abbott, 2007). This program not only measured student progress, but also took into account the quality of the classroom. The study found a significant increase in “child learning, language and reasoning, activities and interactions, and program structure” (Study of Abbott, 2007). Other studies of public preschools provided results depicting social development and school preparedness (Barnett, 2008, p.10).
Pickens (2009) explains that public preschool programs “show a positive impact on children’s behavior outcomes, especially for children living in poverty” (Barnett, 1995; Peterson & Zill, 1986). In the preschool setting, children are exposed to other children from different backgrounds, different personalities and different ethnicities. During this time in childhood development, children begin to learn social behavior. Pickens (2009) explains that these social behaviors are influenced by their teachers and classmates (p. 263).
Participation in the preschool setting allows children to learn how to interact with classmates and encounter situations that can mold their cognitive development (Willis & Schiller, 2011). Attending a preschool class helps to enable a child to learn to regulate their emotions, communicate effectively with others, cooperate with others, and to follow directions (Pickens, 2009, p. 263). Children model what they see. Pickens (2009) urges educators and parents to assist children in developing healthy behaviors in an effort to avoid a negative path of behavioral and academic issues (p. 264).
Impact of Child Care Facilities Child care facilities can consist of home-based child care or child development centers (with some centers offering half-day preschool programs). These facilities are normally center-based and care for infants from six weeks old to three year olds (Pickens, 2009, p. 262). Child care facilities were “found to have the smallest initial effects on children’s learning and development” (Barnett, 2008), while home-based daycare had no effect on building cognitive skills (p. 5). This is not to say that all home-based daycares are not able to provide some cognitive benefit to children.
If a home-based child care program is well-developed and provides a “high-quality” (Winter & Kelley, 2008), then children are more likely to benefit cognitively (p. 263). This high-quality can also make a difference in child care centers. The National Institute of Child Health (NICHD) and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD) showed that “higher quality care”(Belsky, Burchinal, McCartney, Vandell, Clarke-Stewart, & Tresch Owen, 2007) had a positive impact on children’s vocabulary skills (p. 681).
The NICHD SECCYD conducted future evaluations and found that some effects wore off at four and a half years old, while when evaluated in third grade the children had “higher scores on standardized tests of math, memory, and vocabulary skills” (Belsky, et al, 2007). The cognitive long-term benefits of attending child care may result in an increase in household income caused by working mothers; however, working mothers tend to spend less time with their children (Barnett, 2008). Just like preschool, child care can benefit underprivileged children.
Belsky et al (2007) stated that “child care can serve as an effective intervention for low-income children” (Hart & Risley, 1995) that live in a household lacking in literary skills (p. 697). Barnett (2008) mentioned that some studies show an actual regression of social development as children were more prone to be aggressive (p. 6). Winter and Kelley (2008) also report that the amount of time a child spends in child care has an impact of negative behaviors when they reach elementary school (p. 263). Others believe that a child’s negative behavior is may correlate with the amount of time spent in day care.
Pianta and his colleagues (2009) found that children who spent the least amount of hours in day care had less troublesome behavior (p. 58). Just as the quality of the Head Start and preschool teacher had an impact on the child, so does the caregiver at a child care center. The lack of academic qualifications of child care workers or lack of academically challenging curriculum can attribute to the small cognitive development observed in children who attend child care versus a more academically centered program.
Meyers (2007) reports that the approximately two and a half million child care teachers are some of the lowest paid, only earning approximately $18,000 annually (para. 1). This is significantly lower than other early education teachers. The cognitive and social impacts on children are strongly related to child-to-teacher ratio, total number of children in a room, and the teacher’s qualifications (Clothier & Poppe, 2007). However, it has been noted that the amount of attention the caregiver offers to the child can have an impact on their social and cognitive development (Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009, p.
58). Conclusion There are noticeable short-term and long-term impacts on a child’s development, cognitively and socially, with the aid of early childhood education programs. Because the brain is vulnerable at this age it is in these years that children experience “dramatic improvements” (Mai, et al, 2011) in their cognitive and social abilities. The government funded program, Head Start, has indicated that while children do show immediate, moderate growth in cognitive development, social benefits were not as prominent.
This program has proven to be beneficial to children from low- income families, as it has resulted in improved literacy, language skills and an increased rate of commencement. Preschool studies have also shown an increase in reading and mathematics ability and in some cases extending into elementary school years. The social benefits of a preschool education have had an even longer impact on a child’s future behavioral issues.
There is a vast amount of research that shows that “the early years of a child’s development can influence future success” (Winter & Kelley, 2008), so federal and state “policy makers should not depart from preschool education models that have proven highly effective” (Barnett, 2008). It is important that in order for preschool programs, government-funded and public, to continue to be effective in child development, the need for well-designed programs is a must (Barnett, 2008). These well-designed programs must demand a high caliber of teachers that have formal post-secondary education in the area of early childhood development.
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