High-quality early education is especially advantageous when children start younger and continue longer, says a new report from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina. A recent study of children in the Educare Learning Network showed that more high-quality early education significantly boosts the language skills of children from low-income families, and children whose first language is not English benefit even more.
Previous research has shown children’s language skills are most malleable before age 4, which largely explains high-quality early education’s powerful effects. This new study examined receptive language skills—the ability to hear and understand words—because these skills are excellent predictors of later academic success.
Results show that entering Educare as an infant appears to prevent the early decline in language scores often seen in children from lower-income families. Children who enter Educare as infants and remain through their preschool years demonstrate the highest English language scores at age 5, performing very close to the national average.
'Dual-Language Learners' Benefit More
Educare’s effects on children whose first language isn’t English were found to be especially powerful. Like their peers, Spanish-speaking “dual-language learners” benefit from earlier and more high-quality education, but the findings for dual-language learners are much stronger.
English language skills that dual-language learners develop prior to kindergarten can predict educational achievement through eighth grade, but keeping skills in the home language also is beneficial. Home language skills are related to long-term social, emotional, cognitive and academic outcomes. The new study also found that acquiring English language skills in Educare classrooms does not come at the expense of Spanish skills.
The results of this study are encouraging, showing that quality early education prepares vulnerable children for success by closing the achievement gap that we know appears long before kindergarten.
Photo: UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Photo Archives