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Loving, Supportive Daycare Tied to Better Grades Years Later

THURSDAY, June 15, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Could high-quality child care for young children translate into better grades in math and science?

Yes, says new research that found children with caregivers who provided both warmth and mental stimulation go on to do better in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in high school.

“Our results suggest that caregiving quality in early childhood can build a strong foundation for a trajectory of STEM success,” said study author Andres Bustamante, of the University of California, Irvine. “Investing in quality child care and early childhood education could help remedy the underrepresentation of racially and ethnically diverse populations in STEM fields.”

While quality caregiving was already associated with better school readiness for young children from low-income families, fewer studies have looked at its impact on performance in STEM subjects in high school.

In this study, the researchers examined data from 979 families who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, from the time of the child’s birth in 1991 until 2006.

Trained observers visited the daycare and preschools of all the children who were enrolled for 10 or more hours per week when the children were 6, 15, 24, 36 and 54 months old.

The investigators rated the extent to which the caregivers provided a warm and supportive environment, responding to children’s interests and emotions, and the amount of cognitive stimulation they provided. This was assessed through language caregivers used, asking questions to probe the children’s thinking, and providing feedback to help build children’s understanding of concepts.

Then the researchers looked at how these kids did in STEM subjects in elementary and high school, examining scores on the math and reasoning standardized tests for grades three to five.

They also looked at high school standardized test scores and the students’ most advanced completed science and math courses, as well as their grade point average in science and math courses.

The team found that both cognitive stimulation and better caregiver sensitivity in child care predicted greater STEM achievement in late elementary school. This then predicted greater STEM achievement in high school at age 15.

This sensitive and responsive caregiving in early childhood was a stronger predictor of high school STEM performance for children from low-income families than it was for those for kids from higher income families.

The findings were published June 15 in the journal Developmental Psychology.

“Our hypothesis was that cognitive stimulation would be more strongly related to STEM outcomes because those kinds of interactions provide the foundation for exploration and inquiry, which are key in STEM learning,” Bustamante explained in a news release from the American Psychological Association.

“However, what we saw was that the caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness was just as predictive of later STEM outcomes, highlighting the importance of children’s social emotional development and settings that support cognitive and social emotional skills,” he added.

“Together, these results highlight caregiver cognitive stimulation and sensitivity and responsiveness in early childhood as an area for investment to strengthen the STEM pipeline, particularly for children from low-income households,” Bustamante said.

More information

The Indiana University School of Medicine has more on positive caregiving.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, June 15, 2023

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