How Education Affects Early Childhood Development

Mixed Race female teacher and students looking at laptop
Children writing at their desks in a classroom. (Image: Andersen Ross/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Early childhood education can impact a child's academic success and reduce incidences of crime and delinquency, according to professor W. Steven Barnett, author of "Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications," published by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Children enrolled in early childhood education programs may also receive direct benefits in behavior, thought processes, socialization and learning capacity.

Impact of Preschool

Early education can increase cognitive skills in children, according to the authors of "Economics of Education Review," published in the February 2007 issue. Children from under-served communities who attended preschool showed more cognitive improvement than their peers without preschool. Columbia University researchers confirm this connection through their study published in the July 2003 issue of "Developmental Psychology." They found that prematurely born 8-year-olds who attended 400 or more days of preschool at ages 2 and 3 years old scored higher on IQ tests than prematurely born 8-year-olds of similar backgrounds who attended preschool less often.

What Preschool is Best?

But just attending a preschool may not be enough. A child's development may have just as much to do with what type of early learning environment he is in. After entering kindergarten, children who had been enrolled in preschool programs not located in public schools displayed more behavioral problems than children who attended preschools located within public schools. E.S. Peisner-Feinberg and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published a study in the September/October issue of "Child Development" that showed that children who attended high-quality community-based childcare centers behaved better through second grade compared to children who had been enrolled in lesser-quality daycare centers.

Positive Outcomes

Improved cognitive skills can lead to improved academic results. Children enrolled in prekindergarten performed better in reading and mathematics when they entered grade school, state the authors of "Economics of Education Review." Children enrolled in early childhood education programs are less likely to be held back a grade in school, according to the Public Policy Forum. These children also have a decreased likelihood of being enrolled in special education remedial programs.

Beneficial Features of Preschool

Children enrolled in high-quality daycare centers had better social skills than children who were not enrolled in such centers, maintains Peisner-Feinberg. He and his colleagues found that social skill development was highest among children who formed close and affectionate relationships with preschool or daycare center caregivers.

Positive Influences

Early childhood education—received at home, in preschool, in a daycare center or elsewhere—can affect a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. The brain of a child reared in safe, loving and secure environments is more likely to develop in a normal and healthy manner compared to that of a child traumatized at least once, according to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.

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