Globe and Mail

Stay-home toddlers lag in school

Children who take preschool programs get fast start in kindergarten, study finds

The Globe and Mail
Friday, October 15, 1999

Stay-at-home parents need help stimulating their youngsters' minds, Statistics Canada suggests.

Enrolling preschoolers in programs appears to give them a head start in school, says a Statscan study based on a broad sampling of nearly 20,000 Canadian children whose lives are being tracked from birth to 13.

About 40 per cent of children who were in a preschool program at ages 2 and 3 were ranked two years later by their kindergarten teachers as being near the top of their class. Just 25 per cent of children who stayed home with a parent (90 per cent of them with their mother) were ranked that high.

The high-ranking children were also more likely to write a simple sentence, compare numbers and understand simple concepts of time, such as "today," "summer," and "bedtime," the study, From Home to School -- How Canadian Children Cope, found.

"You could read this as, 'Mom can't do it,' " said Ann Peel, the executive director of Voices for Children, a non-profit group that focuses on child development issues. "But I think the only reason that kids exposed to child development centres do better is that we don't educate moms about how to do it. Just because you've got a high level of education and income doesn't mean you know how to play with an infant."

About 39 per cent of two- and three-year-olds are in preschool programs, which the study's authors define as everything from formal child care or nursery schools to mom-and-tot groups to being babysat by Grandma.

The programs helped all children, rich and poor. But affluent parents were more likely than the poor to place their children in programs.

Future studies will look at whether the advantages from preschool programs last through the primary-school years, Garth Lipps, a Statscan analyst who co-authored the study with Jackie Yiptong-Avila, said yesterday in an interview.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said this week after his government's Throne Speech that he hopes to work with provincial governments to develop a better network of early-childhood programs.

These programs, which serve working parents and those staying at home to raise their children, often fall through the cracks, said Kerry McCuaig, director of the Child Care Education Foundation in Toronto.

"Nobody really has responsibility for ensuring that preschool programs are in fact available. They spring up where there is enough political pressure," she said.

The study placed children in one of two categories: those who went to programs (whether they had a parent at home to care for them or not) and those who did not.

Ms. Peel said the report underlines the need for governments to ensure that parents of all incomes can find a place for their children in a variety of programs, whether formal child care or simply play groups at a neighbourhood centre.

Olga Herrmann, a Toronto stay-at-home mother of two young boys, who also works part-time as an editor, did not feel at all insulted by the findings. In fact, she said they underscore the need for programs to instruct parents in how to teach their children. Stay-home parents tend to get caught up in schedules for feeding and napping and cleaning, so having a place to take their children is helpful.

"You need direction. I wish there were courses. There are courses for everything except basics like early childhood development."

She works intensively with her four-year-old son, Daniel, to help him overcome speech problems (especially in pronouncing k's and t's). She and her husband Patrick learned how to do this at two workshops by a speech pathologist at Toronto East General Hospital. Daniel has made excellent progress.

"We learned how to encourage your child to make those sounds without making him feel bad about himself."

Ms. Herrmann said that for children, even those as young as 2 or 3, peer pressure acts as an encouragement to learn. "It was evident with my children, even with regards to potty training. When they saw other children . . . they learned to broaden their horizon."


Data suggest that kindegarten programs did not have the same impact on later performance as attending an early childhood education program.
% of children near the top of their Grade 1 class in 1996-97

Early childhood care and education
Reading: 27%
Written work: 24%
Mathematics: 34%
Overall achievement: 26%
Total in 1994-95*: 489,500
Reading: 25%
Written work: 18%
Mathematics: 25%
Overall achievement: 21%
Total in 1994-95*: 202,300
At home
Reading: 25%
Written work: 16%
Mathematics: 18%
Overall achievement: 16%
Total in 1994-95*: 85,700

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