Preschool Puzzle Play Linked to Better Spatial Relations Skills

A research team from the University of Chicago has linked preschool puzzle play to increased spatial relations skills. The study examined play by preschoolers from divergent backgrounds in their homes over the course of two years. Children who played with puzzles scored higher in spatial relations at the end of the research period.

According to prior studies, a gender gap in spatial skills is present relatively early in childhood development, but the University of Chicago study found the increase in spatial skills to be equal across genders, although parents of boys used more engagement during puzzle play. Preschool boys also tended to play with puzzles that were more complex. Parents with higher income levels were most likely to use puzzles during playtime.

These findings point to the importance of parents and early childhood professionals mindfully incorporating puzzle–style activities into play to serve as a foundation for better improved skills and outcomes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education achievement in elementary school.  The study, Early Puzzle Play: a Predictor of Preschoolers’ Spatial Transformation Skill, by Susan Levine, Kristin R. Ratliff, Janellen Huttenlocher and Joanna Cannon was published in the February 2012 edition of Developmental Science.

Nurturing as a Protective Factor

Being a good parent may protect your children from the long-term health effects of poverty, according to a study published in the November 2011 edition of Psychological Science, the journal from the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers found that children who had been raised in poverty often experienced chronic health issues later in life, however, a small subset of low-income children remained healthy throughout their lives. Closer examination of various factors identified a high level of maternal nurturing as the primary barrier or protective factor against chronic health problems, even more than achieving a higher socioeconomic status as an adult. Clearly, data and long-term outcomes support concern for the emotional well being of children, making it as important as care for their physical needs. Children benefit from being raised in a loving, safe, stable environment.

The study abstract is available online but the full article can only be accessed through a subscription service (check your local or university library system).

Study citation: Miller GE, Lachman ME, Chen E, Gruenewald TL, Karlamangla AS, Seeman TE.
Pathways to Resilience: Maternal Nurturance as a Buffer Against the Effects of
Childhood Poverty on Metabolic Syndrome at Midlife. Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov 28.
[Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22123777.

Will the Economy Kill Early Childhood Education?

The 2005 report Losing Ground in Early Childhood Education by Stephen Herzenberg, Mark Price and David Bradley, from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Keystone Research Center (KRC) concluded that early child education (ECE) in America had reached a point of reckoning, as it was no longer able to successfully recruit and retain the most educated childhood development professionals.

Using data from the Community Population Survey between the years of 1983 and 2004, the researchers identified a decline in the education level of ECE educators, noting that in 1983-84, 43 percent held a 4-year college degree as opposed to 30 percent in 2002-04. Home-based ECE programs especially suffered a decline in staff qualifications with less than 50 percent of the workers having any post-secondary education. Possible reasons for the change in workforce education attainment included low wages, poor or no benefits offered to staff and expanded career opportunities (that paid better) for female college graduates.

Six years after this publication, it appears that little has changed to improve the state of ECE, in fact, due to the recession’s impact on state and federal budgets, much of education funding is in jeopardy. Austerity measures have lead to the removal of full-day kindergarten from some Pennsylvania school districts. At least one district recently cut kindergarten from their education budget completely. These cuts have been made despite numerous research studies that provide evidence of the positive behavioral and academic impacts of ECE on children and a cost-benefit analysis that finds ending ECE may cost more than maintaining it.

Reading the KRC’s report in this time of budget battles and beleaguered taxpayers has me wondering what the future holds for early childhood care, education and intervention. Is ECE now considered a luxury? Is child development a field not worthy of a competitive wage? With older, college-educated teachers reaching retirement age, budget cuts, closing programs and frozen wages, the availability and quality of future ECE programs remains uncertain at best.

This report, and many other excellent policy resources are available at the Keystone Research Center’s website.

Early Childhood Collaborative Resource List

Research indicates that the youngest members of society are the most at risk of experiencing trauma, abuse and neglect, therefore having a high likelihood of contact with the child welfare system. The vulnerability of young children makes their safety and well-being a high priority, a point recognized by policy-makers and professionals as evidenced by the growing collaborative efforts between the child welfare system and early childhood experts.

A brief from the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services entitled TIP SHEET FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD-CHILD WELFARE PARTNERSHIPS: Policies and programs that promote educational access, stability, and success for vulnerable children and families, provides a concise review of the many federal policies and programs in place to improve access to child care, early intervention and early education for youth in the child welfare system. Programs highlighted include:

  • The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA):  The reauthorization of this Act last year provided incentive and support for linking physical and mental health and developmental services to the child welfare system to target at-risk children, especially those under the age of three.
  • Head Start: A free program to eligible children regardless if they live with their parents, kin, or have been placed in a foster home.
  • Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act: This bill requires that youth in foster care, even very young children, experience a stable placement with as few disruptions to their education and residential setting as possible.

More programs and initiatives are summarized on the brief that also includes a list of web-based resources, making this a handy resource for families, advocates, child care workers, educators and social service staff.