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Preschools are positively related to children’s development and functioning

Children who have an early start at kindergarten (universal preschool care for children from 1-6 years old) or family day care have a lower risk of late language development. This is shown in the final results of a study on day care and child development.

Foto: Colourbox.com
Foto: Colourbox.com

Ratib Lekhal at the Division of Mental Health examined how children's participation in kindergarten at age 1, 1.5 and 3 years was associated with behavioral problems and language development at age 3 years in both high-and low-risk groups. In light of the growing debate about the importance of kindergartens, the aim of the project was to contribute to the national and international knowledge-base on child care, particularly about the use of kindergarten.

The Kindergarten Debate

Use of kindergartens has grown rapidly in recent decades. As a result, a more intense debate has ensued around what effects being cared for by someone other than parents might have on children’s development. In general, studies show that high-quality child care, and particularly high-quality kindergartens, are predominantly positively associated with children's language development. As for the risk of developing behavioral problems for children cared for by someone other than parents, the findings are more ambiguous. Studies from the American context suggest an increased risk of behavioral problems, but this finding receives little support from studies in other countries.

The debate about the importance of supervision outside the home on children's development has relied heavily on studies from the United States. There is little European research on this topic, and research from Norway is almost non-existent. But since the legislation governing various types of child care varies considerably between countries, the effect of early child care outside the home varies depending on the social context in which it is studied. This study shows the effect of being in kindergarten on child development and functioning in Norway - a country with publicly subsidized and regulated child care.

Research findings support a positive effect

Children who attend kindergarten or family day care have a reduced risk of late language development, as shown in the results from the three articles included in this thesis. The children who began at kindergarten early additionally did not show higher levels of behavioral problems. In light of the ongoing debate on this topic, this research supports the importance of an international perspective in order to fully understand the effects of attending kindergarten.

Advice to decision-makers: focus more on the opportunities

The results of this paper can provide useful information to decision-makers about the importance of facilitating high quality kindergartens and also mitigate many parents' concerns that their children may develop poorly if they start kindergarten early.

“These findings may contribute to a shift of attention in the ongoing debate about the use of kindergartens, focused on the potential benefits of participation in kindergarten and opportunities to enhance children's curiosity, knowledge and mastery, rather than continuing to focus on the potential damage,” concludes Ratib Lekhal.

About the study

Data from 20,000 to 70,000 children from the prospective, population-based Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) was used. This study provides information on the use of various child care arrangements used for different ages, information about children's language development, behavioral problems, and other information about both parents and children.

References

Lekhal, R., von Soest, T., Wang, MV; Aukrust, VG and Schjølberg, S. (2012) Norway's High-Quality Center Care Reduce Late Talking in High-and Low-Risk Groups. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, September 2012, vol. 33, Issue 7, 562-569

Lekhal, R. (2012) Do the type of childcare and age of entry predictable behavior problems during early childhood? Results from a large Norwegian longitudinal study. International Journal of Behavioral Development, May 2012, vol. 36 no. 3, 197-204.

Lekhal, R.; Zachrisson, HD, Wang, MV; Schjølberg, S. and von Soest, T. (2011) Does universally accessible child care protect children from late talking? Results from a Norwegian population-based prospective study. Early Child Development and Care, vol. 181, No. 8, September 2011, 1007-1019.