Preschool Quality and Child Development
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Children have been proved to be the fastest learners, especially when at an impressionable age (between 2-6 years). This is the time when most of them attend pre-school. The quality of the pre-school and the experiences gained there are believed to affect the development of children. This development encompasses several areas such as social, literacy, cognitive, communicative development and many more such areas. The social and physical environments of schools are said to influence the positive (or negative) development of children. This is where the term “Global Quality” comes into play. Global Quality refers to quality that is most likely to support the positive development of children (Cunningham, 2009, p.501). Studies were conducted to investigate the extent to which the quality of pre-school classrooms (social and physical) affected academic, language and literacy skills; and also how they moderated associations between child risk and development. The articles “Relating Preschool Quality to Children's Literacy Development” and “Quality of Social and Physical Environments in Preschools and Children's Development of Academic, Language, and Literacy Skills” have been instrumental in guiding the thought process that let to my individual study. From my observation of the classroom dynamics of about 30 children from two schools, it can be concluded that quality pre-education is important to the development of children and does leave an impact on the kind of behaviour they adopt in later years.
The study discussed in “Relating Preschool Quality to Children's Literacy Development” to explore the relationship between literacy environment quality and public preschool children & literacy environment quality variability on the literacy development of preschool children was performed on 428 children belonging to 24 different classrooms in a large urban, Midwestern school district. The cultural and economical diversity of the district’s student population was well represented by 74% of the sample being African-American children and 80% of the sample being eligible for free meals. (Cunningham, 2009)
Measures of Quality
The three sources used for data collection for this study were – a student assessment referred to as the Teacher Rating of Oral Language and Literacy (TROLL) and two observation surveys; the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Revised (ECERS-R) and the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO). The TROLL is used to assess important literacy skills like language, reading and writing. The ECERS-R is used to assess the global quality of classrooms with regard to Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routine, Language/Reasoning, Activities, Interaction, Program Structure & Parents and Staff. The ELLCO toolkit is used to assess the quality of the literacy environments with the help of three tools that help determine the extent to which literacy development is supported, they are – a Literacy Environment Checklist, a Classroom Observation and a Literacy Activities Rating Scale. However, only the Classroom Observation has been used in the research study conducted.(Cunningham,2009)
The ECERS-R yielded a mean score of 212 which indicates mediocre global quality. The ELLCO yielded a mean score of 44.4 which indicates basic literacy environment quality. The TROLL test was conducted on two sets of students – students who were eligible for free meals (students at risk) and students who paid in full for their meals (students not at risk). The students at risk had a mean TROLL score of 71.53 (below the 50th percentile) and the students not at risk had a mean TROLL score of 8.44. The t-tests revealed a significant difference between the scores of students with and without risk factors. It has been concluded that influences from a low income background have a negative impact on literacy development and vice versa. (Cunningham, 2009)
Overall, the global quality of preschools in the Midwestern school district is considered to be mediocre as they provide only basic support for literacy development. The author of the paper suggests that literacy development can be improved by improving the quality of classrooms and Based on all three results it has been found that the literacy development of children can be improved by improving the quality of the literacy environment, involving parents in the learning process, including indoor and outdoor activities and improving relationships between parents, teachers and students. A student at risk who reaps the benefits of the above mentioned suggestions can have successful high school years.
Structural and Process Quality
Just as the global quality of the preschools affects the literacy development in students, the quality of social and physical environments affects the academic, language and literacy skills of students. Studies show that students at risk may benefit more from a socially and physically strong preschool environment than their peers who are not at social/economic risk. Academic, language and literacy skills are measured along structural quality and process quality. Features that contribute to the structural quality of a preschool include teachers’ levels of education, type of training, class size, type of curriculum and program services. Process quality is more experience orientated and relates to the features of preschool programs that children experience directly. These include implementation of activities and lessons, nature of reactions between adults and children and children and peers, quality of space and furnishings, abundance of learning materials and many more similar factors.
The paper “Relating Preschool Quality to Children's Literacy Development” discusses the methods used to evaluate the structural and process quality and the results of the study performed on a sample of students. According to Mashburn, the objectives of this study were to verify the relationship between quality of social and physical environments in preschools and corresponding academic, language and literacy skills in students. Mashburn also mentions the level to which these factors of quality limit the relationship between child risk and development. This study has a continuous variable called “quality”. Various studies of the relationship between quality and development have observed effects of quality on child characteristics such as sex, ethnicity, home and family risk factors.
The study was conducted on 126 preschool classes. These included 69 Georgia Pre-K classes, 27 Head Start Classes and 30 private pre-school classes. Five students from each of these classes were selected on a random basis based on the criteria established by the investigator. Data collection for the research was divided into three phases. The first phase lasted two months and involved raters assessing academic, language and literacy skills. The second phase which lasted a month involved raters making systematic observations of process quality. The third phase which also was of one month duration included language, literacy and academic assessments. (Mashburn, 2008, p.116)
Measures of Quality
‘Preschool quality was measured mainly using three observational methods – the ECERS-R, the Assessment Profile and the Caregiver Interaction Scale. Direct Assessment was used as an additional instrument used to gather information about students’ academic, language and literacy skills. The test used for the Direct Assessment was the Woodcock Johnson-III test of achievement. It consisted of two subtests namely Letter Word Identification and Applied Problems. As the names suggest, Letter Word Identification refers to the identification of letters and words and Applied Problems refers to basic math skills such as counting numbers and problem solving. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test III and the Expressive Language sub-test of the oral and written language were used to measure language skills. A store and print concept instrument was used to measure literacy skills. (Mashburn, 2008)
The variables measured in this research were gender, race, family income, process quality and corresponding children development. The results of the study showed that –
(1) Pre-school quality has a positive relationship with children’s development during the early years of schooling
(2) High quality social environments and child development have a significant relationship
(3) There is no association between higher quality physical resources and children’s competencies.
It can be concluded from the two studies that global, structural and process qualities have a significant impact on the development of children. High quality preschool definitely lays the strong foundation for the later years of education. Students at risk who are put in such an environment benefit more from the nature of the program than students who are used to such high quality environments.
To validate the points mentioned in the above papers and observe classes in a real life scenario I performed an ECERS-R observation evaluation. The evaluation was performed on 21 students of the Lincoln School and 10 students of the Early Learning Program and was focused on three scales, Language-Reasoning, Activities, and Interaction. Language Reasoning consists of four subscales: Books and pictures, Encouraging children to communicate, Using language to develop reasoning skills, and Informal Use of language.
At the Lincoln School, all four subscales of Language Reasoning met the requirements. The classroom had a book corner and a story reading session; also the classes had pictures all over it at the right height for children to view effortlessly. The teacher(s) observed the communication levels of students in the class and encouraged shy, silent students to get over their shyness and start communicating. To facilitate the usage of language to develop reasoning the teacher(s) made use of games like Bingo that help reinforce their knowledge of numbers and vocabulary. The informal use of language was encouraged through casual conversations with the students. The school also conducted several interesting activities for the children such as dressing up as characters, playing with sand, creating 3D Art, familiarizing the students with numbers and weather, singing and dancing, playing with blocks, reading books or seeing pictures in books related to science and nature. These activities were al rated as per the ECERS-R. The only activities that did not seem structurally fulfilling were the Sand/Water and Nature/Science activities, because there was no outdoor area designated for water related activities and apart from books and pictures there were no Science/Nature related activities.
The differences in the observations and rating could also be affected by the number of students in each sample and the corresponding number of teachers or assistants available to handle the classes. However both schools demonstrated good structural and process quality. The schools got off to a good start on providing global quality in their classes. However there is always scope for improvement.
It was observed that the Early Learning Program provided a learning environment that was more active and involved more interaction. As a result the students demonstrated more creativity, willingness to try new things and an active picture overall. This supports our earlier conclusion of global, structural and process qualities laying a strong foundation for child development.
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