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Benefits of quality child care last into elementary school


In the study published in the September/October issue of Child Development, better classroom materials and practices - such as activities and teachers responsiveness to preschoolers were associated with more advanced development of childrens language and academic abilities, while a closer preschool teacher-child relationship in preschool was linked to improvements in both cognitive and social skills through the early elementary years.

Higher quality care is modestly associated with a wide variety of better cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes for children from diverse backgrounds, including differences in gender, ethnic background and level of maternal education, says lead author Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Children attending higher quality child care during preschool have better language and math skills, are better able to think and pay attention in class, get along better with other children and exhibit fewer behavior problems into elementary school, Peisner-Feinberg says. 


Recent estimates indicate that more than half of 3- to 5-year-old children in the United States attend child-care centers prior to kindergarten, representing three quarters of the preschool-age children in out-of-home care, she says. But few studies have examined the long-term impact of these early experiences into the school years. "These findings indicate that the need for high-quality child care is of universal importance, and that policies promoting better quality child care have benefits that last into the early school years, she says.In some cases, the benefits of high quality care were even stronger and longer lasting for children at greater risk for having difficulty in school than the average. This was particularly true in the case of better math skills and fewer problem behaviors child, says Peisner-Feinberg.Working with a team of researchers from universities across the country, Peisner-Feinberg and her colleagues studied 733 preschoolers attending 176 child care centers located in California, Colorado, Connecticut and North Carolina and followed 345 of these children through second grade. Half of the children were boys and almost one-third were from diverse ethnic groups. About 82 percent were from two-parent homes. The child care centers represented typical programs in these communities and constituted a range of quality. The researchers measured the quality of the child care environment and the closeness of the childrens relationship with their preschool teachers. They then measured the childrens language, cognitive and social skills during preschool, kindergarten and second grade.


These types of skills are strongly related to childrens performance in school. The more quality is increased, the better off children are. These findings provide support for the importance of high-quality preschool experiences as a mechanism for promoting school readiness and school success, says Peisner-Feinberg. The study was supported by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William T. Grant Foundation, the JFM Foundation, the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the USWEST Foundation, and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education. Child Development is the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Research in Child Development. For information about the journal, contact Jonathan J. Aiken at (734) 998-7310. Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, (202) 387-2829.