National Post

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Friday, October 15, 1999

Daycare gives children head start in school: statscan
Perform better in first two years
Adrian Humphreys
National Post

Children who spent time in a daycare centre or were cared for by a nanny performed better in their first two years of school than children who stayed at home with a parent, a large study by Statistics Canada suggests.

The advantages in communication skills, learning skills and numeracy that researchers say were evident in kindergarten and Grade 1, however, seemed to fade by Grade 2.

The study compared two groups of children enrolled in school during the 1996-97 school year. One group had attended an early-childhood program or daycare centre or had received care from a paid worker such as a nanny in the previous year. The other group had stayed at home with a parent, usually the mother.

Researchers found the children who had been cared for solely by a parent were not performing as well at school.

About 40% of children who participated in some form of early-childhood program at ages three and four were judged by their teachers to be near the top of their kindergarten class in communication skills, compared with only 25% of stay-at-home children.

The study found 38% of the children in programs were near the top of the class in learning skills, compared with 24% who were not in programs. It found that higher proportions of children who had attended programs were able to write a simple sentence, compare numbers and understand simple concepts of time.

The study's findings do not surprise Dr. Linda Cameron, an early-childhood education researcher at the University of Toronto. She cautioned, however, that people with strong parenting skills need not necessarily worry if their children are not in programs.

"Kids that are in situations where there are lot of good resources, educational toys, lots of books, where they are being read to, in situations where English is spoken fluently -- of course they are going to be advantaged," Dr. Cameron said.

The latest StatsCan study also supports a growing body of evidence that reading aloud to a preschooler greatly increases the child's academic performance.

"Reading to children more than once a day has a substantial positive impact on their later academic skills," the study says. "Furthermore, children who had early exposure to books and reading were also better at performing mathematical tasks."

StatsCan waded into the debate over the competing merits of stay-at-home parenting as opposed to placing children in care outside of the home in a large, continuing study that looks at a wide variety of factors thought to influence a child's development. Other studies have shown the benefits of placing young children in outside programs, but StatsCan's is the largest of its kind conducted in Canada.

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