Category Archives: At home

Some skills needed for literacy may be developed in infancy: complex babble linked with better reading

A study published in PLOSOne is again something rather nice to know than showing us something new to do, infants capable of complex babble may grow into stronger readers, except it may help us in a future to identify reading disabilities at an early age.

From the press release:

Infants’ early speech production may predict their later literacy, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Farquharson from Florida State University and colleagues.

Children with difficulties in identifying letters are more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties cannot be uncovered until the child is 3 to 5 years old. The authors of the present study investigated whether assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.

The authors tracked nine infants from English-speaking US families between the ages of 9 and 30 months. They recorded each infant’s babble as the child interacted with their primary caregiver, looking specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, a demonstrated measure of speech complexity. The authors then met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters, a known predictor of later reading impairment.

They found that those children with more complex babble as infants performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test. Though the sample size was relatively small and all 9 children participating in this study all developed normally (meaning the range of variability was restricted), these results may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.

The authors suggest that in the future, the complexity of infant babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.

Farquharson adds: “This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work – we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner.”

Abstract of the study:

Letter identification is an early metric of reading ability that can be reliability tested before a child can decode words. We test the hypothesis that early speech production will be associated with children’s later letter identification. We examined longitudinal growth in early speech production in 9 typically developing children across eight occasions, every 3 months from 9 months to 30 months. At each occasion, participants and their caregivers engaged in a speech sample in a research lab. This speech sample was transcribed for a variety of vocalizations, which were then transformed to calculate consonant-vowel ratio. Consonant-vowel ratio is a measure of phonetic complexity in speech production. At the age of 72 months, children’s letter knowledge was measured. A multilevel model including fixed quadratic age change and a random intercept was estimated using letter identification as a predictor of the growth in early speech production from 9–30 months, measured by the outcome of consonant-vowel ratio. Results revealed that the relation between early speech production and letter identification differed over time. For each additional letter that a child identified, their consonant-vowel ratio at the age of 9 months increased. As such, these results confirmed our hypothesis: more robust early speech production is associated with more accurate letter identification.

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Another take on bilingualism: children take longer to learn two languages at once compared to just one

You can often read about the benefits of being bilingual from a young age. This study does take another turn and show it’s a bit more complicated than that for sure also for migrant children. How complicated?

Bilingual children from immigrant families often lag monolingual children in the development of the majority language while also having poor skills in their heritage language, even when SES is controlled. This may reflect, in part, internal limits to how rapidly children can learn two languages simultaneously, but the circumstances in which children are exposed to two languages in the immigrant context are far from a perfect test of that internal capacity. Monolingual children with native parents and bilingual children in immigrant families differ in ways besides the number of languages they hear. In bilingual environments, children hear less of each language, and the quality of their exposure to the majority language is often less because their sources of that language may have limited proficiency. In addition, bilingual children in bilingual environments can choose the language they speak, and when one language is more prestigious than the other, they choose the more prestigious language.

From the press release:

Worldwide immigration patterns are increasing the number of children who grow up exposed to two languages, a circumstance that provides numerous benefits as well as some challenges. Because bilingual children’s input is divided between two languages – the majority language of the country where they reside and their family’s heritage language – on average, they receive less input in each language compared to children who receive all of their input in just one language. As a result, bilingual children develop each language at a slower pace because their learning is spread across two languages.

A leading psychologist and language development expert at Florida Atlantic University says, “Don’t worry,” and reassures parents, teachers and clinicians that it is perfectly normal for bilingually developing children to take longer because they are learning more. In a review published in the journal Child Development Perspectives, Erika Hoff, Ph.D., a psychology professor and director of the Language Development Laboratory in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, examined research on the course of dual language growth among children in immigrant families. She focused on children exposed to two languages from birth and identified quantity of input, quality of input, and children’s use of language as factors that influence language growth.

Hoff’s review of the research shows strong evidence that the rate of language growth is influenced by the quantity of language input. Her findings challenge the belief, held in and out of scientific circles that children are linguistic sponges who quickly absorb the language or languages they hear and will become proficient speakers of two languages so long as they are exposed to both at an early age.

“One clear implication of studies of bilingual children is that we should not expect them to be two monolinguals in one,” said Hoff. “The bilingual child, like the bilingual adult, will develop competencies in each language ‘to the extent required by his or her needs and those of the environment.'”

The findings indicate that the quality of language exposure is also important. Hoff argues that immigrant parents should use the language they are most comfortable speaking when they interact with their children. They should not be told to use English just because it is the language of the host country if their own English proficiency is limited.

“To support bilingual development fully, children’s exposure to each language should come from highly proficient speakers,” Hoff said.

The research shows that children also need to use a language in order to acquire it. In bilingual environments, children can choose the language they speak, and when one language is more prestigious than the other, they choose the more prestigious language. Bilingual development is supported when both the host and heritage languages are valued by society and children have opportunities that encourage them to use both languages.

Prior research has shown that French-English bilingualism is achieved more successfully in Canada than is Spanish-English bilingualism in the United States, and that the equal prestige of the two languages in Canada plays a role. In Canada, children also may have greater access to highly proficient speakers of both languages because both languages are national languages.

“Children from immigrant families need strong skills in the majority language to succeed in school, and they need skills in the heritage language to communicate well with their parents and grandparents,” said Hoff. “Bilingualism is an asset for interpersonal, occupational, and cognitive reasons. Children who hear two languages from birth can become bilingual, even if that outcome is not guaranteed.”

Hoff’s findings suggest that bilingual children’s competencies, in addition to reflecting their communicative needs, also reflect the quantity and quality of their exposure to each language.

“These findings repeat conclusions from studies of monolingual development that language acquisition depends on the quantity and quality of language experience and the opportunity to participate in conversation,” said Hoff.

Abstract of the study:

Early exposure to two languages is widely thought to guarantee successful bilingual development. Contradicting that belief, children in bilingual immigrant families who grow up hearing a heritage language and a majority language from birth often reach school age with low levels of skill in both languages. This outcome cannot be explained fully by influences of socioeconomic status. In this article, I summarize research that helps explain the trajectories of observed dual language growth among children in immigrant families in terms of the amount and quality of their language exposure as well as their own language use.

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Children have a nuanced understanding of fairness from a young age

This study reminded me of one of the many little experiments that Piaget did and while there has been many issues with the research of the infamous biologist and psychologist from Switzerland, the age group in this experiment isn’t that dissimilar…

From the press release:

New University of Michigan research indicates that children as young as 5 incorporate market concerns–the idea that what you get is in line with what you give or offer–into their decision making, and increasingly do so with age.

Some people think children are innately selfish–they want to get goodies for themselves. Other people think children are innately altruistic–they care about helping others. Most people think children are both.

“The trick is knowing when and how to balance self interest and concern for others–what is appropriate in different circumstances,” said lead author Margaret Echelbarger, a recent U-M psychology doctoral graduate.

By studying how children engage in different types of exchanges, researchers can discern the origins of these behaviors, as well as their developmental course.

“This in turn tells us a bit more about ourselves as adults,” Echelbarger said.

The U-M research included 195 children ages 5-10 and 60 adults helping a giver distribute stickers to friends. They distributed stickers equally between friends when offers were the same, but unequally when different offers were made.

There were times when the participants distributed more stickers to the friends offering more money, which meant children–as they aged–were willing to abandon equal norms for distribution. More specifically, older children distributed more stickers to friends who paid more even when the other friend wanted to pay but couldn’t.

“These findings are especially interesting in light of young children’s limited exposure to market/economic instruction,” Echelbarger said. “We show that, from a young age, children are developing an understanding of the ‘rules’ of market exchanges.”

Echelbarger and colleagues also found that children are sensitive to the reasons underlying the different offers. Children penalize recipients refusing to pay more than recipients willing but unable to pay, she said.

The findings, which appear in Child Development, are also consistent with prior research that children incorporate equity concerns, such as merit and need, into their distribution decisions.

Abstract of the study:

Children are sensitive to a number of considerations influencing distributions of resources, including equality, equity, and reciprocity. We tested whether children use a specific type of reciprocity norm—market norms—in which resources are distributed differentially based strictly on amount offered in return. In two studies, 195 children 5–10 years and 60 adults distributed stickers to friends offering same or different amounts of money. Overall, participants distributed more equally when offers were the same and more unequally when offers were different. Although sensitive to why friends offered different amounts of money, children increasingly incorporated market norms into their distributions with age, as the oldest children and adults distributed more to those offering more, irrespective of the reasons provided.

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Just don’t be a helicopter parent

We’ve seen before that being a tiger mom is not a good idea. But being a helicopter parent isn’t a good idea neither. A new study suggests that children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments.

From the press release:

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. “Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry. “Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.

Abstract of the study:

We examined longitudinal associations across an 8-year time span between overcontrolling parenting during toddlerhood, self-regulation during early childhood, and social, emotional, and academic adjustment in preadolescence (N 422). Overcontrolling parenting, emotion regulation (ER), and inhibitory control (IC) were observed in the laboratory; preadolescent adjustment was teacher-reported and child self-reported. Results from path analysis indicated that overcontrolling parenting at age 2 was associated negatively with ER and IC at age 5, which, in turn, were associated with more child-reported emotional and school problems, fewer teacher-reported social skills, and less teacher-reported academic productivity at age 10. These effects held even when controlling for prior levels of adjustment at age 5, suggesting that ER and IC in early childhood may be associated with increases and decreases in social, emotional, and academic functioning from childhood to preadolescence. Finally, indirect effects from overcontrolling parenting at age 2 to preadolescent outcomes at age 10 were significant, both through IC and ER at age 5. These results support the notion that parenting during toddlerhood is associated with child adjustment into adolescence through its relation with early developing self-regulatory skills.

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What can parents do to stimulate the IQ of their children?

The saved-you-a-click answer: not that much, but do read on.

This week there was the news of the drop of the average IQ aka the reverse Flynn-effect. The big insight of this new study was that this isn’t probably due to genetics, but rather due to the environment. So, if the environment can affect this IQ – besides the obvious genetic element – what can we do as a parent? This new study tries to answer this question by looking at children that were adopted to control for genetic confounding, but the answer is sobering: parenting has a marginal and inconsistent influence on offspring IQ.

So if we combine the insights of both studies we learn:

  • the environment is important related to the Flynn-effect and
  • family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.

Well, than we have to look further to education, media, …

Abstract of the study:

The association between family/parenting and offspring IQ remains the matter of debate because of threats related to genetic confounding. The current study is designed to shed some light on this association by examining the influence of parenting influences on adolescent and young adult IQ scores. To do so, a nationally representative sample of youth is analyzed along with a sample of adoptees. The sample of adoptees is able to more fully control for genetic confounding. The results of the study revealed that there is only a marginal and inconsistent influence of parenting on offspring IQ in adolescence and young adulthood. These weak associations were detected in both the nationally representative sample and the adoptee subsample. Sensitivity analyses that focused only on monozygotic twins also revealed no consistent associations between parenting/family measures and verbal intelligence. Taken together, the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores. The implications of this study are discussed in relation to research examining the effects of family/parenting on offspring IQ scores.

 

 

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The indirect consequences of urban violence on learning

Be warned, this could be a depressing read as this new study suggests that children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas. You read it correctly, even if those kids themselves aren’t living in these violent neighborhoods. But do be warned, I can sum several possible explanations for this correlation. And no, giving up on children is not, I repeat, not an option.

From the press release:

Children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas, according to a new Johns Hopkins University study.

In schools where more kids have a high exposure to violence, the study found, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests. The findings, which demonstrate how urban violence and school choice programs can work together to spread “collateral damage,” appear today in the journal Sociology of Education.

“Exposure to neighborhood violence has a much bigger impact that we think it does,” said the lead author, Johns Hopkins sociologist Julia Burdick-Will. “It seeps into places that you don’t expect. It can affect an entire school and how it’s able to function.”

Burdick-Will studied students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010, analyzing administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. She looked at five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years.

She found high school students in Chicago public schools experience, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of their homes. Children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often experienced double that.

The crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies.

About half of the students studied were African American and about a third were Hispanic. Schools with students who experienced high levels of neighborhood violence, however, were more than 94 percent African American.

Because Chicago offers students the option of attending school anywhere in the city, students often commute to schools across town. Students from nearly every neighborhood attend nearly every school. This means that the experience of violence that Chicago students face where they live does not necessarily remain in their neighborhood, but is taken with them all over the city where they attend school.

Previous research shows that children living in violent neighborhoods experience trauma that makes them more difficult to teach and is related to an increased likelihood of high school dropout and low test scores as well as depression, attention problems, and discipline issues, says Burdick-Will. What hasn’t been studied in the past is that students who are in the same classes as these children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests, she found.

It’s possible these effects build over time, she says.

“This is just one year — we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,” Burdick-Will said. “If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal.”

Chicago’s crime rates are comparable to those in Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami, and it is possible that schools in those cities have similar issues, Burdick-Will says.

“Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she said. “We can’t think about violence as something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city.”

Abstract of the study:

Research shows that exposure to local neighborhood violence is associated with students’ behavior and engagement in the classroom. Given the social nature of schooling, these symptoms not only affect individual students but have the potential to spill over and influence their classmates’ learning, as well. In this study, I use detailed administrative data from five complete cohorts of students in the Chicago Public Schools (2002 to 2010), crime data from the Chicago Police Department, and school-level surveys conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research to assess the strength of this peer effect. The estimated negative relationship between peer exposure to neighborhood violent crime and individual achievement is substantial and remains after adjusting for other peer characteristics and student fixed effects. Surveys suggest these results are related to trust, discipline, and safety concerns in cohorts with larger proportions of students from violent neighborhoods.

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Sleep disturbances in girls associated with more difficulties staying awake in and out of school

We’ve known for some time now that we all sleep less than a decade ago and that our children often nowadays don’t sleep enough. This new study describes that there are maybedifferences related to gender. I wasn’t able to read the study because it’s something that was presented at a conference last week.

From the press release:

Preliminary results of a recent study show that teen girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities than boys.

The study examined whether teen boys and girls report similar negative impact of sleep disturbances on their daytime functioning.

“What was most surprising is the fact that teenage girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness than teenage boys on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities,” said co-author Pascale Gaudreault, who is completing her doctoral degree in clinical neuropsychology under the supervision of principal investigator Dr. Geneviève Forest at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, Canada. “For example, teenage girls have reported missing school significantly more often than teenage boys due to tiredness, as well as reported having lower motivation in school due to a poor sleep quality.”

731 adolescents (311 boys; 420 girls; ages 13 to 17.5 years; grades 9-11) completed a questionnaire about sleep and daytime functioning. Questions were answered on a seven-point Likert scale (1=never; 7=often). Gender differences were assessed using t-tests.

Study results show that teenage girls reported more difficulties staying awake during class in the morning, during class in the afternoon, and during homework hours than boys. They also reported feeling too tired to do activities with their friends, missing school because of being too tired, feeling less motivated in school because of their poor sleep, and taking naps during weekends more often than boys. However, there was no gender difference when it came to using coffee or energy drinks to compensate for daytime sleepiness or for falling asleep in class.

“These results suggest that teenage girls may be more vulnerable than teenage boys when it comes to the negative impacts of adolescence’s sleep changes,” said Gaudreault.

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented Tuesday, June 5, in Baltimore at SLEEP 2018, the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), which is a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

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The child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development

Yes, it’s a good idea to read bedtime stories to your children, but for the development of language and literacy, it’s not enough. The question for me remains: is it something you can help your children with as this longitudinal study is showing a correlation rather than showing a clear causal relation:

 

  • Self-regulation development was associated with language and literacy skills.
  • Earlier self-regulation was associated with higher skills and earlier development.

 

From the press release:

Research from Michigan State University found that a child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development, and that the earlier they can hone these skills, the faster language and literacy skills develop leading to better skills in the long run.

“Self-regulation is an umbrella term to define children’s abilities to keep information in their working memories, pay attention to tasks and even to inhibit behaviors that might prevent them from accomplishing tasks,” said Lori Skibbe, associate professor in the human development and family studies department and lead author of the study.

Through her research, Skibbe found that children who could self-regulate earlier had higher language and learning skills through at least second grade.

“We’ve known that there is a relationship between self-regulation and language and literacy, but our work shows that there is a lasting impact. The early advantage of self-regulation means children are learning these critical language and literacy skills earlier and faster, which sets the stage for developing additional skills earlier as well,” Skibbe said.

Skibbe and her research team assessed 351 children twice a year from preschool to second grade, on both self-regulation and on language and literacy.

When assessing self-regulation, the children were asked to play a game that required them to follow prompts from the researchers.

“We asked them to touch their heads, shoulders, knees and toes, similar to the childhood ‘Simon Says’ game,” Skibbe said. “Then, we reversed or mixed the commands to see who could follow based on the instructions they retained.”

When assessing academic development, Skibbe looked at four language and literacy skills: comprehension; vocabulary; early decoding, or the ability to identify letters of the alphabet and read short words; and phonological awareness, or understanding the sound structure of language.

Some children are biologically predisposed to develop self-regulation skills earlier, Skibbe said, but there are things parents can do to help them in their development.

“By nature, humans are not effective multitaskers, and children need time where they focus on only one thing,” she said.

“Parents need to be aware of how their children can regulate their own behavior based on what’s going on around them. Parents can structure their home environment and routines in ways that support children,” Skibbe said. A full night of sleep, playing games with children and having time without distractions in the background are things you might not think help language and literacy development, but they do.”

Abstract of the study:

Previous research has established that higher levels of behavioral self-regulation are associated with higher levels of language and literacy. In this study, we take a more developmental perspective by considering how trajectories of self-regulation development (early, intermediate, late) predict the way literacy and language skills develop from preschool through second grade. Children (n = 351) were assessed twice per year for up to four years on indicators of decoding, reading comprehension, phonological awareness, and vocabulary. Using non-linear growth curve models, we found that children who demonstrated self-regulation earlier had higher language and literacy skills throughout preschool to second grade. More specifically, earlier self-regulation trajectories were associated with both higher levels and earlier development of both decoding and reading comprehension, but not faster development. Children with early self-regulation trajectories developed phonological awareness earlier than those with late self-regulation trajectories. Finally, children with early self-regulation trajectories had higher levels of vocabulary than children with intermediate trajectories, but did not differ on the rate or timing of vocabulary development. Findings point to the enduring and interconnected nature of self-regulation and children’s language and literacy development.

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The importance of language at an early age for academic success in other areas such as math, literacy,…

Lately there has been some discussion if the infamous word gap is as big as said in the original research. Still this new study shows the importance of language at an early age for other academic domains. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, still it will may well be for some.

In short:

  • Growth curve models revealed strong within-domain—but few cross-domain—predictions.
  • Language skills predicted academic outcomes the most broadly across domains.
  • In general, lower baseline skills at school entry predicted greater gains over time.
  • Higher kindergarten language predicted larger gains in reading from grades 1 to 3 and 3 to 5.
  • Examining multiple readiness domains together is critical for practical application.

The fourth element gives hope, at the same time it shouldn’t – again – be so surprising.

From the press release (with the awkward concept of “kindergarten readiness” included):

Research shows that the more skills children bring with them to kindergarten – in basic math, reading, even friendship and cooperation – the more likely they will succeed in those same areas in school. Hence, “kindergarten readiness” is the goal of many preschool programs, and a motivator for many parents.

Now it’s time to add language to that mix of skills, says a new University of Washington-led study. Not only does a child’s use of vocabulary and grammar predict future proficiency with the spoken and written word, but it also affects performance in other subject areas.

Language, in other words, supports academic and social success, says Amy Pace, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

“A lot of other research focuses on math, science and literacy, and they don’t even consider that language could be playing a role,” she said. “But really, it emerges as a strong predictor across subject areas. Why do kids succeed in math, for example? Part of it could be having a strong math vocabulary.”

The study was the first to look at a comprehensive set of school readiness skills and to try to determine which, of all of them, is the most solid predictor of a child’s later success. Language — the ability to fluidly learn words and to string them together into sentences — was the hands-down winner, said co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University.

For this study, published online April 30 in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Pace and her colleagues from Temple University, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina examined longitudinal data from more than 1,200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.

While there is considerable research on how children develop specific skills over time, much of that research is focused on patterns of learning within a single subject area, like math or reading. Researchers in the UW study wanted to determine whether there are relationships between skills when considered in combination, and to think about how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth, above what might be expected based on the skills the child demonstrates when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. The team analyzed academic and behavioral assessments, assigned standardized scores and looked at how scores correlated in grades 1, 3, and 5. Growth curve modeling allowed the team to look at children’s levels of performance across time and investigate rates of change at specific times in elementary school.

Researchers found that of the skills and milestones evaluated – social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language – only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade. Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.

People often confuse language with literacy, Pace said. Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts. Language is the ability to deploy those words and use complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing. And that’s why it has such potential to affect other areas of development, Pace said. At a time when so much focus is on math and science education, it is language that deserves attention, too.

“It provides a foundation for social interaction. If you’re stronger in language, you will be able to communicate with peers and teachers,” she said. “Language also relates to executive functioning, the ability to understand and follow through on the four-step directions from the teacher. And it helps solve problems in math and science, because understanding terminology and abstract concepts relies on a knowledge of language.”

For example, language ability at school entry not only predicted language proficiency through fifth grade as expected, but it also predicted growth in literacy between grades 1 and 3, and a similar amount of growth between grades 3 and 5. In effect, language gave children a boost to help them learn more than researchers might have predicted based on the children’s performance at school entry.

Measuring the impact of one skill on another, in addition to measuring growth in the same skill, provides more of a “whole child” perspective, Pace said. A child who enters school with little exposure to number sense or spatial concepts but with strong social skills may benefit from that emotional buffer. “If we look at just a very narrow slice of a child’s ability, it may be predictive of ability in that area, but it’s not necessarily a good prognosticator of what’s to come overall for that child,” she said.

Researchers expected to find that the effects of kindergarten readiness would wear off by third grade, the time when elementary school curriculum transitions from introducing foundational skills to helping students apply those skills as they delve deeper into content areas. But according to the study, children’s performance in kindergarten continues to predict their performance in grades three through five. This was consistent for multiple skill areas, including language, math and reading, and suggests that bolstering children’s development in those first five years is essential for long-term academic success.

A few findings merit further study, Pace added, especially as they relate to educational policy. For example, children who entered kindergarten with higher levels of skills appeared to make fewer developmental and academic gains than those children who started at lower levels. That is consistent with other research, but, Pace said, it’s worth examining how to better serve high-performing students.

The study also represents an opportunity to rethink what skills are considered measures of kindergarten-readiness, she said.

“Language ability at school entry consistently emerges as an important predictor of student outcomes. This may be why the first three to five years are so critical for future academic and social development,” Pace said. “It is the child’s earliest, high-quality interactions with parents, teachers and caregivers that promote a strong communication foundation – and this foundation goes on to serve as the bedrock for future language and learning.”

Abstract of the study:

Children’s skill levels in language, mathematics, literacy, self-regulation, and social–emotional adjustment at kindergarten entry are believed to play an important role in determining school success through their long-term association with academic and social skills in primary and secondary education. Hence, children’s school readiness is a national priority. To date, there is some evidence that specific individual school readiness skills relate to specific outcomes, but much of that research has not addressed concerns regarding generalization due to the high levels of correlations among the school readiness skills. The interrelationships among school readiness domains and patterns of skill acquisition – during the first three years of primary education in which basic skills are the focus and in the later years of primary or secondary education when higher-order skills are the focus – have not been explored adequately. Using the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development dataset (n = 1364), this research conducted growth curve analyses to examine a comprehensive set of readiness indicators in kindergarten and identify which domains were stronger predictors of academic and social trajectories through grade 3 and from grades 3 to 5. Results highlight the importance of examining multiple school readiness domains simultaneously rather than separately, and moving beyond outcomes (skill levels) at a particular grade to consider which kindergarten skills predict gains over time (skill acquisition) both within- and across-domains. Empirical and methodological implications are considered for educational research, policy, and practice.

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Boys who start smoking pot before 15 are much more likely to have a drug problem at 28

What a difference a year or two can make? Well, regarding cannabis-use quite a lot according to to a new study by Université de Montréal researchers: if you started smoking marijuana at the start of your teens, your risk of having a drug abuse problem by age 28 is 68 per cent, but if you started smoking between 15 and 17 your risk drops to 44 per cent.

There is still some caution regarding the study. While they controlled for a lot of different elements, it is still rather a correlation than causal proof. Also the use of a longitudinal sample is great and relevant, but the sample was limited to boys of low socioeconomic status.

From the press release:

“The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were reduced by 31 per cent for each year of delayed onset of cannabis use in adolescence,” the researchers at UdeM’s Department of Psychology, School of Psychoeducation and the CHU Saint-Justine Hospital Research Centre found.

Their study was publishedApril 22 in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Percentage nearly tripled

According to a 2011 study by University of Waterloo researchers in the journal Addictive Behaviors, 10 per cent of Canadian adolescents consumed cannabis in Grade 8. By Grade 12, that percentage nearly tripled to 29 per cent. Early-onset cannabis use has been linked to further drug abuse problems later in life.

The new study, done by UdM doctoral student Charlie Rioux under the supervision of professors Natalie Castellanos-Ryan and Jean Séguin, shows just how much.

The researchers looked at data for 1,030 boys in the Montreal Longitudinal and Experimental Study of white francophones from some of the city’s impoverished neighbourhoods begun in the early 1980s. Every year between ages 13 and 17, the boys were asked if they had consumed cannabis at all in the previous year.

At 17, and again at 20 and 28, they were asked not only whether they consumed cannabis, but also other drugs, including hallucinogens, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, heroin and inhalants. Then the data were correlated with the age at which they started using cannabis.

Double the chance if frequent use

The results confirmed the researchers’ suspicions: the younger they started, the more likely the boys had a drug problem later as young men. This is partly explained by the frequency with which they consumed cannabis and other drugs, but those who started before age 15 were at higher risk regardless of how often they consumed.

“The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were non-significant if cannabis use had its onset at ages 15 to 17, but were significant and almost doubled each year if onset was before age 15,” the study says. Even if those who start smoking cannabis at 17 years were at lower risk, frequent users (20 or more times a year) at age 17 had almost double the chance of abuse by age 28 than occasional users.

And that may be underestimating the problem, the researchers say.

“Notably, considering that the potency of cannabis products increased over the last two decades and that [inthis study] adolescent cannabis use was assessed from 1991 to 1995, it is possible that the higher content of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the cannabis available today would be associated with higher rates of drug abuse symptoms.”

Gangs, thievery, drinking

The researchers also found that the earlier that boys were involved in gangs, drank alcohol, got into fights, stole or vandalized property, the earlier they used cannabis and the higher their odds of having drug abuse issues by 28. Those who started drinking at 17 also were at higher risk of having an alcohol problem at 28.

The finding that starting pot smoking between ages 13 and 15 increases the odds of developing a drug problem later on makes it all the more important to prevent or reducing cannabis use as early as possible, the researchers say.

“It may be important to implement these programs by the end of elementary school to prevent early onset of cannabis use,” said Rioux. “Since peer influence and delinquency were identified as early risk factors for earlier cannabis onset and adult drug abuse, targeting these risk factors in prevention programs may be important, especially since prevention strategies working on the motivators of substance use have been shown to be effective.”

Abstract of the study:

The present study examined 1) whether the associations between cannabis use (CU) age of onset and drug abuse by 28 y remain when controlling for risk factors in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood; and 2) the developmental pathways from early risk factors to drug abuse problems. Participants from a longitudinal sample of boys of low socioeconomic status (N = 1,030) were followed from 6 to 28 y. We examined the self-reported CU onset between the ages of 13 and 17 y and drug abuse symptoms by 28 y. The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by 28 y were reduced by 31% for each year of delayed CU onset (OR = 0.69). Cannabis, alcohol and other drug frequency at 17 y mediated this association. Still, even when taking that frequency of use into account, adolescents who started using cannabis before 15 y were at a higher risk of developing drug abuse symptoms by age 28 y. Significant indirect effects were found from early adolescent delinquency and affiliation with deviant friends to drug abuse symptoms at 28 y through CU age of onset and substance use frequency at 17 y. The results suggest more clearly than before that prevention programs should aim at delaying CU onset to prevent or reduce drug abuse in adulthood. Furthermore, prevention programs targeting delinquency and/or affiliation with deviant friends in childhood or early adolescence could indirectly reduce substance abuse in adulthood without addressing substance use specifically.

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