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The Benefits of Preschool–a BYU study

“Does sending my child to preschool really matter?”

The results of a 10-year study at Brigham Young University to determine whether low-risk, educationally advantaged children actually benefit from attending preschool points to a resounding YES.

Jean M. Larsen, professor of family sciences and principal investigator for the study, reported some of the results at a recent meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, D.C.

“Third-grade children who had attended preschool scored significantly higher on the spelling and language portions of the school achievement test than did third-grade children who had not attended preschool…” Larsen said in her presentation, noting that boys in particular appeared to garner long-term benefits.

In addition, Larsen believes it is highly significant that 90% of preschool attenders participated in music and sports lessons or activities by the third grade, compared with 68% percent of children who didn’t attend preschool.

Previously, Larsen has reported definite immediate gains for children who attend preschool, with the children in her study scoring higher on IQ tests than control groups at the end of preschool and again one year later at the end of kindergarten.  Boys, again, in particular, benefited.

Several decades of studies based on the “deficit hypothesis” have already shown definitely that children from economically and educationally disadvantaged homes show significant benefits from quality preschool programs.  But few researchers have studied the effects of preschool on children who come from advantaged backgrounds–the purpose of this BYU project.

Larsen and her team are following five “waves,” or chronological groups, of children from preschool through the elementary grades of public school.  Each wave is composed of children who attended BYU’s laboratory preschool and of a similar number who did not attend.  The families of these children are overwhelmingly traditional nuclear families, with almost all living with both parents and only a small percentage of mothers working full-time.  The children who attend the preschool are given various tests at designated intervals, and their scores are compared with those in the control group.

The BYU preschool program is unusual because it includes a parent education component that requires participation of all fathers and mothers.  Instruction for parents follows an “elaboration” model, which emphasizes an experiential, natural learning process and not an academic one.  The preschool program for children is based on the same model, following the rationale that preschool should supplement the learning occurring in a healthy home environment.

“The children are involved in thinking and broadening their experience rather than role learning of symbols,” Larsen said.  “Instead of mechanical drill on letters and numbers, we stress involvement or hands-on learning.  They don’t memorize 60 vocabulary words, for instance, but interact with one another and learn concepts relating to and evolving from the natural environment.”

As a result, Larsen thinks the elaboration preschool experience helps children develop language and social skills as well as a healthy curiosity about life and the natural world, but not so much academic skills–a belief born out in the study’s results.

It should be noted, however, that academic skills are not hampered by this de-emphasis in the early years.  Most of the children in the study scored well above the 70th percentile on the reading and math components of the school achievement test.

Larsen is involved in programs to train both parents and caregivers to improve the quality of child care in preschools.

 

—side note:  Larsen was one of Marcia’s instructors while she attended BYU.  Her preschool is patterned after the one on campus

 

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