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Early Education and Care is Key to Improving School Readiness

September 13, 2018
Edward Melhuish
The Good Men Project

How can policymakers best support children between the ages of two and three to help them do well once they begin school—through early education or influencing the home environment?

It’s a vital question that many countries ask. We know that children who start poorly at school also tend to lag behind throughout their education. Supporting them early on could pay dividends for a lifetime.

In a search for answers, we studied more than 4,000 children and their families in the United Kingdom, looking at life at home in that formative year before their third birthday, as well as at how non-parental care influenced their development.

Like most researchers, we found that what happens at home remains the biggest influence on child development in this period. However, it can be hard for policymakers to engineer big changes in parental practice.

We also found that non-parental care and early education helped build skills for school. It benefited children’s cognitive development and, typically, their socio-emotional development, regardless of their families’ economic backgrounds.

Some of the benefits of early childhood education and care (ECEC) were confined to particular types. ECEC includes many different settings, ranging from a neighbor’s living room to a group nursery. However, we found few downsides, except in the behavior of a small group of children who spent most of the day in group care and had done so since infancy. We also found that the various boosts that children gained from ECEC were independent of benefits they experienced from growing up in a prosperous home environment. The two sources of benefits complemented rather than competed with one another.