Home environment plays a role in learning

The role of home learning, family routines and psychosocial environmental factors are potentially important in closing income gaps in early child development.

Among an array of other environmental factors, recent studies have shown that parenting styles and activities and the parent–child relationship influence early child development. Now, new research by the International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health, based on data from the MCS, confirms that a supportive home learning environment is positively associated to children’s early achievements and wellbeing2.

For children at ages three and five, researchers examined data on socio-emotional difficulties (eg, conduct problems), cognitive abilities and family income as well as a range of indicators exploring the home environment including learning at home, routines and psychosocial environmental factors.

Based on these indicators, findings show that the highest income families are most likely to have favourable home learning, family routines and psychosocial environments compared with lower income families. Children in the highest income group were less likely to have socio-emotional difficulties compared with those in the lowest income group at three and five years (2.4 per cent vs 16.4 per cent and 2.0 per cent vs 15.9 per cent, respectively) and had higher mean scores at ages three and five on ‘school readiness’; and greater verbal, spatial and non-verbal abilities. At ages three and five years, children from the lowest income families were approximately seven and eight times, respectively, more likely to have socio-emotional difficulties compared with children from the highest income families.

Children from poor households, the study shows, are less likely to benefit from home learning activities like numbers/ counting, learning songs, poems and rhymes, drawing and painting as well as being read to than their peers in wealthier homes. In simple terms, this study suggests that changes in parenting behaviours could help close the inequality gap in terms of child development. If, for example, half or all of the five-year-old children who were read to less than daily were instead read to on a daily basis there would be corresponding ten per cent and 20 per cent reductions in the proportion of five-year-olds with socio-emotional difficulties.

“There is room for developing policy aimed at closing the inequality gap in child development, and to do this programmes need to be more effective in improving developmental outcomes in disadvantaged children compared with their advantaged peers,” says researcher Professor Yvonne Kelly.

Working parents prove ideal scenario