Day Care Linked to Slight Behavioral Problems, Better Vocabulary
April 4, 2007 -- A study released by the National Institutes of Health ties day care at child-care centers to modest behavioral problems in children through sixth grade, but indicates that such problems are within the normal range for healthy children. It also finds that kids who receive high-quality care -- defined as care by an engaged, responsive adult or adults in a rich, nurturing setting -- have better vocabulary scores through fifth grade.
The long-term Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, published in Child Development, tracked 1,364 children from birth, analyzing the quality, quantity, and type of care the children received until they were 54 months old. Child care was defined as regularly scheduled care for at least 10 hours per week by anyone other than the child’s mother. The study compared care by nonrelatives with care provided by fathers, grandparents, and other relatives.
The researchers then evaluated the children’s academic achievement, cognitive (intellectual) and social skills, and behavior at intervals until they were 12 years old. The authors of the study found that the more time children spent in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely their sixth-grade teachers were to report such problem behaviors as "gets in many fights," "disobedient at school," and "argues a lot."
Other factors, such as quality of parenting and classroom instruction, were also taken into account when examining the association between early child care and children’s subsequent development. The study found that kids with higher-quality child care -- whether in child-care centers or family child-care homes, or with sitters or nannies -- scored better on vocabulary tests through the fifth grade than those with lower-quality care.
The authors emphasized that the quality of day care a child receives matters, but it is not as important as the quality of parenting for children during their formative years . Parents have a far more powerful impact on children than any of the effects of day care.
The National Academies have a long-standing interest in early childhood issues. Compelling scientific evidence reveals that a child's earliest experiences significantly shape a good start in life and school, for these are the years when the biological and behavioral foundations for growth and learning emerge. These findings have important implications for the content and settings of child care and early education programs and the policies and practices that assure the quality of those programs.
The Academies report From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development recommends that the president create a task force to develop a 10-year plan on ways to foster sustained relationships between preschoolers and qualified caregivers, and ensure that all child-care settings are safe, stimulating, and responsive to families' individual concerns. Getting to Positive Outcomes for Children in Child Care -- the summary of two workshops on the subject -- reviews current and emerging efforts to establish performance measures for early childhood programs.
In addition, the Academies published Early Childhood Development and Learning: New Knowledge for Policy, a booklet that summarizes five major reports that, taken together, provide policymakers, educators, and parents with important tools and the best available science for understanding child development and early education.