Spending more time in quality early years’ education between ages two to four can have a positive impact on the cognitive development and social and emotional wellbeing of children - regardless of their social background, new research suggests. Children in this age bracket who spent more time with childminders, were also found to have fewer emotional difficulties, such as fears and worries.
The insights were revealed in newly published findings from the government funded Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) study. SEED aims to study children from age two, to age seven, in order to better understand how different early childhood education and care experiences (ECEC) can impact child development.
This report focused on the development of children age two to four years and looks at the range of ECEC that children receive. It also assessed the impact of the parent child relationship on child development, and whether the quality of their home learning environment may play a role.
The research which is conducted by a consortium comprising the University of Oxford, Action for Children, Frontier Economics and the National Centre for Social Research, was commissioned in 2012 by the Department for Education.
The report presents findings from this major longitudinal study, which followed up 3,930 children and their families, respectively, to understand the effectiveness of early years’ education on child development at age four. Parent interviews at ages two, three and four asked questions about the early childhood education and care (ECEC) attended, and characteristics of the home environment. Child development at age four was assessed through parent reported socio-emotional development and direct assessments of cognitive development. The quality of ECEC attended was measured through observations carried out in 1,000 settings attended by a subsample of children in the study.
The findings showed that children who attended more hours of ECEC per week between ages two to four years old, had significant cognitive and developmental socio-emotional advantages, compared to others who spent less time in ECEC. These benefits were felt regardless of the level of family disadvantage that the child was from.
Professor Edward Melhuish, co-author and Academic Research Leader in the Department of Education at Oxford University, said: ‘Children that attended high quality formal group ECEC settings, such as nursery and playgroup, were found to have increased non-verbal cognitive development and less behavioural problems by age four, such as better behavioural self-regulation and fewer peer problems. Comparatively, children who spent more time in informal individual ECEC environments, such as with extended family and friends, had better language development at age four.’
The home environment was also found to play an important role in child development. Both the home learning environment and parent child relationship were associated with increased cognitive and socio-emotional development at age four.
Dr Svetlana Speight, Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research, said: ‘With the continuing increase in government investment in early years, it is encouraging to see a range of positive outcomes for children as measured just before they started school in reception year. The SEED study follows children from when they were aged two, with annual surveys until they turn five, and afterwards by looking at their school attainment data. It provides the highest quality evidence, based on a nationally representative sample, on how home environment and spending time at nurseries, with childminders and with grandparents can benefit cognitive and socio-emotional development of children from all different backgrounds.’