Researchers from the University of West England examined the effect a child’s environment has on their language and readiness for school.
They found that young children who experienced a positive communication environment at home had a better expressive vocabulary by their second birthday. They also went on to achieve higher scores on tests of language, reading and maths when they started school.
The study, Investigating the role of language in children’s early educational outcomes, was funded by the Department for Education and based on data from the University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of parents and children. Researchers looked at the number of books available to a child, the frequency of trips to a library, the range of activities a mother taught their child, the number of toys they had and whether they attended daycare. The amount of time that the television was on in homes was also included.
The findings showed that while a positive communication environment made an important contribution to children’s readiness to start school, children’s language scores decreased as the amount of time the TV was on in homes increased.
The authors argue the study emphasises that what parents do with their children, even before they have begun to talk, can help prepare them for school. They also claim that the communication environment is a better predictor of children’s success than their social economic background, as commonly thought.
Professor James Law from Newcastle University, one of the contributing authors said, ‘Although we recognise that national indictors of social risk such as material wealth remain influential later on, what parents do with their child and how they communicate with them when they’re under two is far more important.
‘This is a very positive message as it gets us away from the belief that a child’s educational future is pre-determined by standard measures of socio-economic disadvantage such as income, housing or the mother’s education.’
He added, ‘Simple activities such as visiting a library more often, playing simple games together or joining a Sure Start group can help improve a child’s communication skills immensely.’