Early daycare leads to smarter teens

Washington: Teenagers who receive better child care during early years fair slightly higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement compared to their counterparts who don’t, a new research indicates.

A long-running study funded by the National Institutes of Health shows that teens who had spent the most hours in child care in their first 4½ years reported a slightly greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking at 15 than did peers who spent less time in child care.

The study is the first to track children for a full decade after they left childcare.

"Previous findings from the study indicate that parents appear to have far more influence on their child`s growth and development than the type of child care they receive," said James A Griffin, PhD, deputy chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch, at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that funded the study, "The current findings reveal that the modest association between early child care and subsequent academic achievement and behavior seen in earlier study findings persists through childhood and into the teen years."

The 1,364 youth in the analysis had been evaluated periodically since they were 1 month of age, as part of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), the largest, longest running and most comprehensive study of child care in the United States.

The families that participated in the study were from diverse geographic, demographic, economic and ethnic backgrounds.

From 1 month of age through sixth grade, children were evaluated at least annually on tests of cognitive and academic progress. When the students were 15, the researchers tested the students` academic achievement and, using a questionnaire, had the students evaluate their own behaviors. These included measures of behavioral problems (acting out in class); impulsivity (acting without thinking through the consequences); and risk taking (engaging in behaviors that might harm themselves or others).

A new finding that emerged at age 15 was that youth who had spent more time in quality childcare as young children reported fewer acting-out behavior problems as teenagers.

"These results underscore the importance of interaction between children and their daytime caregivers," said first author Deborah Lowe Vandell, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Education at University of California, Irvine. "We`re seeing enduring effects of the quality of staff-child interaction."

The study also indicated that the results were consistent amongst boys and girls, and to find out if childcare could have benefits for children from economically disadvantaged homes, the researchers created a risk index with such factors as family income, the mother`s level of education and others.

"High quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills," said James A Griffin, PhD, deputy chief of the NICHD Child Development & Behavior Branch. "Likewise, more time spent in child care may provide a different socialization experience, resulting in slightly more impulsive and risk-taking behaviors in adolescence. These findings underscore the importance of studying the linkages between early care and later development."

The study results appear in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development.



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