Differences in childcare and education surprise researchers

A new study is one of the few that takes a look at kids’ child care experiences from birth to kindergarten.

The study was published online in the journal Early Education and Development. Researchers indicate the study of kindergarteners in one Midwestern state identified a variety of pathways that the children took during their early education before starting school. Some received care only in their home or at a childcare center while others went back and forth or had other arrangements entirely.

Why does this matter?

Researchers indicated that by having a better understanding of the diverse experiences children have before school, officials would be able to better consider what children need when entering the classroom. The study was part of a larger, federally funded project designed to improve the understanding of what happens in classrooms from pre-school to third grade.

How did it work?

Researchers collected data from two large, suburban school districts that included 25 schools, 152 classrooms, and 3,472 students. They created then a subsample of 568 students for this particular study. Part of the study included a questionnaire for parents that requested information about their child’s education and care from birth to age 5. Researchers discovered that 44% of the children received care only in the home during the first five years of life. Approximately 10% spent their first two years at home and then moved into center-based care and 7% spent the majority of their early years in center-based care.

While these were the three pathways researchers identified prior to the study, their research uncovered more as well. 21% of the children were at home most of the early years but were enrolled in a preschool or pre-kindergarten program in the last year before kindergarten. Other groups including children mostly cared for in informal settings (5%); those who went between home and informal care (8%), and those who had both home and center care throughout the whole 5 years (5%).

Why are there so many options?

Researchers suggested the variety in pathways is likely due to what they deemed a “patchwork” of available options. Parents make decisions based on how expensive care is, what their work schedules are, if family members are available to help, etc.


Researchers noted that there were no differences, however, in test scores between children from different pathways. They indicated this was surprising with most studies showing an advantage to kids who spent more time in center-based care. Additionally, results did confirm those from other studies suggesting children who spent the most time in center-based are had more teacher-reported social and behavioral problems in kindergarten. This, officials noted, could be due to those children being more comfortable in school-like settings and therefore being less shy about acting out.

Additionally, researchers noted the pathways to kindergarten found in this particular study may not be the same everywhere. The research was supported by funding from the federal Institute of Education Sciences.


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