Study shows consistent benefit of early daycare

WASHINGTON Fri May 14, 2010 9:11am EDT

Washington D.C. preschoolers at Cleveland Park Congregational Church enjoy a walk as outdoor activities resumed October 25, 2002. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Washington D.C. preschoolers at Cleveland Park Congregational Church enjoy a walk as outdoor activities resumed October 25, 2002.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Parents worried about putting very young children into daycare got some reassuring answers on Friday -- children who have high-quality care see academic benefits lasting into high school.

The latest results from the long-running U.S. National Institutes of Health study show children in high-quality childcare scored slightly higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement years later as teenagers.

They were also slightly less likely to act out than peers who were in lower-quality childcare, the researchers reported.

But children who spent the most hours in childcare had a slightly greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking at age 15 than teens who had spent less time in childcare, the researchers wrote in the journal Child Development.

Quality for childcare is usually measured by how much time the provider spends interacting with the children, as well as warmth, support and cognitive stimulation.

The ongoing study is meant to inform the policy debate on whether both parents should work when children are young and whether providing childcare is good for the children, their parents and society as a whole.

"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 Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that paid for the study.

"The current findings reveal that the modest association between early childcare and subsequent academic achievement and behavior seen in earlier study findings persists through childhood and into the teen years."

Deborah Lowe Vandell of the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues tracked 1,364 children who have been studied since they were 1 month old starting in 1991.

They measured the quality, hours and type of daycare, collected results of standardized tests and interviewed the teens, their families and their schools. The children were from diverse backgrounds.


Vandell's team found more than 40 percent of the children were given high-quality care and 90 percent spent at least some time in the care of someone other than a parent before age 4.

"These results underscore the importance of interaction between children and their daytime caregivers," she said in a statement. "We're seeing enduring effects of the quality of staff-child interaction."

But too much interaction may be harmful, researchers found in a second study.

Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota and colleagues studied 150 3- and 4-year-olds in 110 different family childcare homes.

About 40 percent of the children had elevated levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, they reported in Child Development.

Cortisol went up in children whose care providers were intrusive or overcontrolling -- measured by how much free play they had versus structured activities led by the providers that mainly involved rote learning.

Girls with larger increases in cortisol acted more anxious and vigilant at child care, while boys acted more angry and aggressive, Gunnar reported.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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Comments (5)
Fern wrote:
I notice that in the report of the first study, vaguely defined “measures of academic and cognitive achievement” are cited as measurable end results, while in the second study,the measurable outcome was much more specific, that is, cortisol levels. I would like to see more rigorous comparison of the studies.

May 14, 2010 11:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Two years ago, he says, some preliminary research was published by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which found children who spent most of their time in childcare were three times as likely to exhibit behavioral problems in kindergarten as those who were cared for primarily by their mothers.

Now, the two new studies reinforce the old research.
The first study, conducted again by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that those who spend long hours in child care may experience more stress and are at increased risk of becoming overly aggressive (17 percent) and developing other behavior problems.

QUALITY care is the key, and most working mother’s cannot afford and do not have access to high quality care. In fact, studies show children in day care are more impulsive, bigger risk takers, more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system, children with strong attachments to their mother were NEGATIVELY affected. Further any advantage declined over time. In other words, the longer the children attended day care the less benefit there was.

May 14, 2010 12:46pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
lzamor wrote:
I would like to know the definition of “quality daycare”

May 14, 2010 12:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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