The work was conducted by Eileen Rodriguez as part of her doctoral program at NYU. The study was co-authored with Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, a professor in the Department of Applied Psychology.
“Our findings indicate that enriched learning experiences as early as the first year of life are important to children’s vocabulary growth, which in turn provides a foundation for children’s later school success,” said Rodriguez, now a survey researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Previous research has found that, on average, children living in poverty are less well prepared to start school than are children from middle-income homes. The new findings may offer a remedy for addressing this gap.
“This research provides an important glimpse into how children learn and develop in naturalistic settings across time,” said Amber Story, a social psychologist and deputy director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the study. “Such data is difficult to gather but it adds a necessary dimension to our understanding of learning and all the factors that impact it before the child even reaches the classroom.”
The study may be downloaded here.
Over a five-year period, the study examined the learning environments of more than 1,850 children and their mothers from households at or below the federal poverty line. Researchers used home visits to gather information when the children were one, two, three, and five years old. They looked at the following: how often children took part in literacy activities, such as shared book reading; the quality of mothers’ engagements with their children, such as children’s exposure to frequent and varied adult speech; and the availability of learning materials, such as children’s books. To assess school readiness, they measured the number of words the children understood and their knowledge of letters and words at five years old.
The researchers found that differences in the children’s learning environments over time predicted their readiness skills. For instance, children whose learning environments were consistently low in quality across the four ages studied were much more likely to have delays in language and literacy skills at pre-kindergarten than children whose environments were uniformly high at all the ages. The results also showed that experiences that occur as children prepare to enter kindergarten also matter, particularly in contributing to children’s early reading skills.
“Home learning experiences that are consistently supportive in the early years may close the school readiness gap of children from low-income backgrounds,” said Rodriguez.