News | October 5, 2017

Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative At The Harvard Graduate School Of Education's ELS@H Study Finds Parents' Biggest Worry About Preschoolers Is Academic Skills, Education

Early findings show 3-year olds spend fewer hours in formal care than 4-year-olds

Boston, MA /PRNewswire/ - The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has released preliminary findings from the first phase of its Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H), a first-of-its-kind, large-scale, population-based study of young children's learning and development, which launched with a household survey earlier this year.

Early results, based on data from the household survey, suggest that 4-year-olds are more likely to be in "formal" education and care settings (e.g., centers with classrooms, including Head Start, public pre-K, community preschool, and parochial preschool) than are 3-year-olds. Specifically, 53 percent of 4-year-olds are in formal care only, while 39 percent of 3-year-olds are in such settings.

"We set out to learn more about the landscape of early education and care for 3-and 4-year-old children in Massachusetts," said Nonie Lesaux, Academic Dean and the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "These early findings indicate that 4-year-olds in Massachusetts are more likely to be in formal settings than 3-year-olds, which could reflect that they have more formal options to choose from at this age, or that parents are responding to the movement toward a year of preschool before school begins." The early findings also show that 3-year-olds in Massachusetts are equally likely to be in formal or informal settings. Informal settings include family child care run out of a home, care by a non-relative, care by a non-parent relative, and care exclusively by a parent or guardian.

Lesaux added, "What we don't yet know is what these various experiences mean for children's learning and growing. These kinds of questions are central to the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H), which will ultimately help us address questions about the features and characteristics of all types of early education and care settings and their links to children's outcomes over time. We expect this work to inform a broader conversation about how we can improve quality of and access to early education and care for all of our early learners."

In the household survey parents and guardians were also asked questions about their hopes and concerns about their children's education and their future. For one question in particular parents were asked to describe their biggest worry about their preschool-age child. Parents cited education and academic skills as their biggest worry, and at 32 percent this was overwhelmingly the most prominent worry, with social-emotional development and physical well-being next at 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Other areas mentioned by parents included the state of the world and negative peer influences.

"It's clear that families believe in their children," said Stephanie Jones, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "In fact, they described them in the most glowing terms using words like smart, loving, curious, and kind, but they also expressed clear and legitimate worries about the future. In particular, parents identified children's educational pathways and academic opportunities as a major worry, but also their social-emotional and physical needs. These data will help fuel the discussion of how to improve and scale high quality early care and education options for parents."

In addition, the data indicated that while most parents feel confident in their children's schooling, they tended to be more confident in their medical care than schools.

Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Saul Zaentz Initiative partnered with a Massachusetts-based research firm, Abt Associates, to conduct the first phase of the study. The research team is currently in the process of drawing a representative sample of 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds within the state of Massachusetts. The study will follow the families for four years. Twice a year, children will complete select activities with the study team to gauge their development. The places where children spend time and the adults who care for them will play an important role in the study. The data reported here are for 444 children living in 69 census block groups. Since the household survey is being rolled out by location, the preliminary results are not representative of the state of Massachusetts, though the results of the complete household survey will be.

For more information about the Saul Zaentz Early Childhood Initiative and ELS@H, visit here.

About The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative
The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is a major investment to drive transformation in U.S. early childhood education. The Initiative promotes the knowledge, professional learning and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences. The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative is supported by a $35.5 million gift from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, one of the largest gifts ever given to a university for advancing early childhood education.

SOURCE: Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative

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