Early home learning environment a precondition for future academic success

Children whose parents provide them with learning materials like books and toys and engage them in learning activities and meaningful conversations in infancy and toddlerhood are likely to develop early cognitive skills that can cascade into later academic success, finds a new NYU Steinhardt study.

The study led by  Catherine Tamis Le Monda, had the goal to  analyse how much impact the early learning environment can have on the later academic success of a child. The study followed  more than 2000 families  enrolled in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project and the results that came out clearly showed the importance of starting early and starting right.  

The study also presented us with the alternatives should a child be raised in an poor learning environments.  Some of them being:

  • Insufficient speech development and bad language mastery
  • Behavior problems
  • Decreased ability and readiness to start with school
  • Aggressiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive developmental disorder.  

The study further confirmed that the long-term effects of the poor early learning environment can be witnessed through:

  • lower high school graduation rates
  • Problems and troubles when the child becomes a parent himself
  • Difficulties in finding and retaining the job,  
  • Financial independence and stability.

The benefits of high quality early learning

In order to prevent the above mentioned effects, the researchers from the University of New York conducted the study involving more than 2000 families  enrolled in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project.  The aim of the study was to examine  early home learning environments and whether they predict 5th grade academic skills for children of families from ethnically diverse, low-income backgrounds.

Children’s learning environments were measured through a series of home visits at 14 months, at 2 and 3 years, and at pre-kindergarten. There were three important characteristics of early learning home environment that have been identified as having the positive influence on the child’s development, and these are:

  1. Parents’ participation in learning: including book reading, storytelling, playing social games.
  2. Quality interaction between parents and children: if parents are sensitive, tender, open, offering rich and varied language learning (e.g. parents stimulate children by naming and describing objects and happenings in their environment), child manages to develop faster and better his own language skills.
  3. Availability of different learning materials at home: including books for children, interactive toys, toys encouraging imagination (for i.e. toys as cooking sets), toys that encourage motor skills and learning about spatial environment (e.g. different sorts of puzzles, riddles, quizzes).

According to this study, it has been determined that these three characteristics are important, regardless of the fact that there are different styles of parenting. The researchers also found that early learning environments supported the emergence of pre-academic skills that persisted into early adolescence to predict children’s 5th grade academic skills. Pathways from early learning environments to later academic skill were also similar for children from White, Black, Hispanic, English-speaking, and Hispanic Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

The professor of developmental psychology at the University of New York, Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, one of the leading researches on this project pointed out:

“We often make assumptions that this is a homogeneous group,” said Tamis-LeMonda. “They’re all living in poverty, so these kids will therefore be doing horribly, that parenting will be weak. What is amazing to think about is how much the experiences of these children vary from one another.  You have children who are in poor families who are getting incredibly rich engagement. Parents are talking to them all the time, providing rich language, lots of books, lots of toys, and then at the other extreme, also within low-income families, you have children who are in much more impoverished circumstances.”    

So how much is the home learning environment important for the child’s development?

The quality home learning environment is incredibly important as it affects children’s language and cognitive development. Children’s participation in learning activities, the quality of parent-child interactions, and the availability of learning materials like books and toys are three key features of the home learning environment that support language and pre-academic skills in early childhood.

Further reading: