Early Child Care Linked to Better Vocabulary,
But Also More Problem Behaviors in

Fifth and Sixth Grades, Study Suggests

UT Dallas Professor is Co-Author of NIH-Funded Report

March 26, 2007

Children who received higher quality child care before entering kindergarten had better vocabularies through the fifth grade than those who received lower quality care, the latest findings in a long-term study, co-authored by a professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, suggests.  But, the same study showed that those with more experience with center-based care, as opposed to other types of child care, exhibited more behavioral problems, according to their teachers in sixth grade.

However, authors of the study emphasized that the increase in vocabulary and in problem behaviors were small, and that the quality of parenting was a much more important predictor of child development than the type, quantity or quality of early child care.

The latest analysis in an ongoing study of child care in the United States, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is published is the March/April 2007 issue of Child Development.  The first author of the article is Jay Belsky, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues and professor of psychology at Birkbeck University of London.  One of five other authors is Margaret Tresch Owen, Ph.D., professor and head of the Human Development and Early Childhood Disorders Program in UT Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“These findings indicate long-term effects of early child care experiences that have implications for children’s school achievement and behavior,” Owen said.  “We were impressed that the associations we had found earlier between higher quality child care experiences and better vocabularies in the children were sustained through fifth grade as the children moved into middle school.”

“Although the effects were small, they were shown even when we controlled for the effects of children’s school experiences,” Owen said.  “The same is true for the sustained effects we found for center-based child care in early childhood on teachers’ observations of children’s behavioral problems.”   

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, the largest, longest running and most comprehensive study of child care in the U.S., was begun in 1991 to examine relationships between children’s experiences in child care in the first 54 months of life and children’s subsequent development.  The researchers measured the quality, quantity and type of child care that 1,364 children born in 1991 received, then evaluated the children’s academic achievement and cognitive functioning from kindergarten through fifth grade and social development through sixth grade.

The new report showed that children who experienced higher quality early child care have somewhat better vocabularies through fifth grade than children who were enrolled in lower quality child care.  The researchers wrote that this finding was consistent with other evidence indicating that children with greater early exposure to adult language were more likely to score higher on measures of language development. 

The researchers also found that children with more experience with child care centers in early childhood, regardless of the quality of care, were more likely to score higher on teacher reports of aggression and disobedience.  The study authors suggested that this could be due to the fact that center-based child care providers may not be able to provide sufficient adult attention or guidance to address problems that may emerge when groups of young children are together, such as how to resolve conflicts over toys or activities.

The researchers emphasized that the children’s behavior was within the normal range and was not considered clinically disordered.

The cohort of children will be evaluated again at age 15 to determine further consequences, if any, of child care.

About UT Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor, enrolls more than 14,500 students.  The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores.  The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs.  For additional information about UT Dallas, please visit the university’s website at www.utdallas.edu.

Contact Steve McGregor, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2293, [email protected]

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April 26, 2018