Research on whether childcare experiences affect children’s early language and cognitive development has also become increasingly common in the last 50 years. Past studies have focused on the differences found amongst different childcare settings in quality of care. Studying the impact of high or low quality conditions on cognitive development is important, and emphasis on how different aspects of childcare could be altered to better aid children may lead to improvements in service.
In the past, large and economically diverse studies have revealed a significant association between higher childcare uality and cognitive development. Although many studies expressed the quality of child care as an average over time, many addressed that the timing of the quality of childcare was important and revealed that childcare during certain periods of development greater predicted achievement scores in children partaking in the services.
Growth curves in several studies showed that both initial levels of quality and increase in quality of time lead to increases in pre-academic skills, and many studies also tested to see whether materials used in childcare, settings where the services took place, number of interactions etween teachers and students, or variations in quality of childcare over time affected cognitive development. Study Hypothesis Quality of childcare can be measured using the aspects of Teaching and Interactions and Provision for learning.
When studied using these aspects, higher quality of care trajectories between the ages of 2-4 will correlate with better performance on a cognitive assessment of school readiness, receptive vocabulary, numeracy skills, and knowledge at four years old. Methods Participants in the study were taken from a pool of families from a pool participating in a perinatal study. The children who were never hospitalized at birth, diagnosed with a disability, those with adolescent mothers, and those with mothers who were not fluent in French or English.
There was an initial assessment at around 27 months, with two follow-ups at around 40 months and 53 months of age. 257 families met the criteria of having at least one of the cognitive assessments at four years of age available for analysis. Parental interviews were conducted when the children were 2, 3, and 4 years old, and a cognitive assessment was completed when the child was 4 years old. In ach childcare setting, a trained research assistant completed a global observation to determine the quality of the environment.
To ensure reliability in research assistants’ observations, each assistant completed training protocol and a monthly discussion with a trainer took place. Cognitive assessments were performed on each child at age four that assessed school readiness, numerical abilities, and receptive vocabulary. Trained research assistants conducted the assessments in either English (18. 6%) or French (81. 4%). Different regression models were used to control for language differences.
The Number Knowledge Task (NKT), The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), and the Lollipop Test assessed number concepts, vocabulary, and school readiness, respectively. Child characteristics and family/maternal characteristics were accounted for in the study, with gender, birth weight, parental education, maternal immigration status, and family income/ socioeconomic status all considered as confounding variables. Also controlled for was maternal lifetime depression, smoking status during pregnancy, and general parenting skills (using the Parental Cognitions and Conduct Toward Infant Scale- PACOTIS).
During analysis, the quality factors of Teaching Interactions and Provisions for Learning were studied by computing mean scores from the ITERS-R, ECERS-R, and FDCRS. These scores were analyzed at 2, 3, and 4 years of age using the best fitting Bayesian model. Also conducted was descriptive analysis through Chi squares and ANOVAS. These statistical measures allowed for the modeling of association between cognitive outcomes and childcare quality. Results and Conclusions This study had two main goals: the first was to identify how specific quality dimensions affected cognitive development rajectories between the ages of 2 and 4.
The second was to find specific differences in receptive vocabulary, numeracy skills, and school readiness in four years based on disparities in quality of childcare. When trajectories reflecting higher quality of childcare over time were compared to those trajectories reflecting a lower quality of care over time, a high and ascending trajectory of Teaching and Interaction had a positive association with receptive vocabulary, numeracy skills, and school readiness; this contrasted with Provision for Learning, whose trajectory had no ndependent influence on cognitive outcomes.
The effect sizes for the associations studied were moderate, consistent with previous studies that revealed a moderate and positive effect of high quality childcare on children’s’ cognitive development. Notable was the fact that a substantial fraction of children in the study were exposed to high and ascending levels of quality of Teaching Interactions (59%), with a smaller group (41%) exposed to low and stable quality. This contrasted with the fact that in Provision for Learning, only 24. 3% of children were exposed to igh and stable quality while the majority (75. 7%) was exposed to lower quality.
The mean childcare quality observed in the study was lower in center-based settings than it was in family- based settings. The present results of this study suggest that while Provision for Learning and Teaching and Interactions are found to be highly inter-correlated, high-quality Provision for Learning does not, by itself, account for higher cognitive scores upon assessment. The statistics for Teaching and Interactions, however, shows that a moderate level of quality is necessary to obtain a positive impact. Critique Strengths and Weaknesses A major of this study was its large sample size. 50 families successfully completed the study, and such a large sample size controls for many confounding variables as it reflects a wide demographic range in is a subject. Another strength is that this study is longitudinal, and longitudinal studies have more power than cross-sectional studies as they track the same people over time. This means that the cultural differences between generations are less likely to confound and skew results in a longitudinal study than they would in a cross-sectional study. A weakness of this study is the fact that it is correlational, not experimental.
This correlational design means that inferences on causality may not be performed, even considering the wide range of covariates accounted for in the study design. Hidden variables might explain associations seen in the data. Next Steps A clear need for further research is the design of an experimental study to determine causality between quality of childcare and cognitive development. Performing a controlled experiment to test specific effects of variation in childcare uality on children’s academic skills will allow for more concrete conclusions to be made on which aspects of childcare lead to increased development in children.
Importance and Implications In general, this study supported past studies’ findings that childcare does have an association with cognitive development, and higher quality of childcare tends to lead to increased performance on cognitive assessments for those children regularly involved. The results of this study suggest that the quality of Teaching and Interactions contains the largest effec size on cognitive development of the two aspects analyzed. An implication of this is that childcare services should focus on improving the skills of teachers and decreasing student-to- teacher ratios.
Improvement in these areas will offer a better return on investment than improving Provisions for Learning, which did not generate significant effect sizes in this study. Also notable is the fact that since family-care settings were shown to have a lower mean quality of care than center-based settings, making center-based childcare settings affordable for parents is vital to ensure the highest level of cognitive development in children amongst all socioeconomic classes.