According to research published by the American Psychological Association, children from low-income backgrounds perform worse in science, technology, engineering, and math through high school when they receive high-quality child care as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
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“Our findings imply that early caregiving quality can create a solid basis for a trajectory of STEM success,” University of California Irvine researcher Andres S. Bustamante, PhD, who wrote the study. “Investing in early childhood education and child care of high quality could help address the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in STEM fields.”
Numerous studies have shown that early childhood caregiving of greater quality is linked to early childhood readiness for young children from low-income households. However, few studies have examined the impact of early child care on students’ performance in high school, and even fewer have concentrated on STEM fields, claims Bustamante.
Bustamante and his colleagues looked at data from 979 families who took part in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development between the time of the child’s birth in 1991 and 2006. This was done in order to research those topics.
All of the children who were enrolled for at least ten hours a week had their daycare centers and preschools inspected by trained observers as part of the study. When the observers visited, the children were 6, 15, 24, 36, and 54 months old. They evaluated two aspects of the child care program: the degree to which the caregivers responded to the interests and feelings of the children and created a warm and nurturing environment; and the degree of cognitive stimulation they offered by using rich language, probing the children’s thinking with questions, and offering feedback to help them understand concepts more deeply.
Next, the researchers examined the pupils’ performance in STEM classes at the primary and high school levels. They looked at the kids’ performance on the arithmetic and reasoning sections of a standardized examination in grades three through five in order to gauge STEM achievement. The most advanced scientific course taken by the students, the most advanced math course they finished, their GPA in both science and math classes, and the results of standardized tests were all used by the researchers to gauge high school success.
Overall, they discovered that higher STEM achievement in late elementary school (third, fourth, and fifth grade) was predicted by both aspects of caregiving quality (more cognitive stimulation and better caregiver sensitivity-responsivity), which in turn predicted greater STEM achievement in high school at the age of 15. Early on, children from lower-income households showed a better correlation with high school STEM achievement when they received sensitive and responsive parenting than did children from higher-income homes.
“We reasoned that cognitive stimulation would have a stronger correlation with STEM outcomes since those interactions lay the groundwork for inquiry and discovery, which are fundamental to STEM education,” Bustamante stated. But what we discovered was that caregiver responsiveness and sensitivity was equally indicative of subsequent STEM achievements, emphasizing the need of social emotional development in kids and the need for environments that foster cognitive and social emotional abilities.
In general, data and theory indicate that excellent early care practices promote a solid basis for scientific learning, according to Bustamante. Together, these findings show that early childhood caregiver cognitive stimulation, sensitivity, and responsiveness should be prioritized in order to boost the STEM pipeline, especially for kids from low-income families.