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Poor vocabulary and problem-solving evident in poorer children

Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

The vocabulary of the majority of five-year-olds is below average for children from the poorest households, according to a study of 10,000 children in Scotland.

What parents do with their children is important for developing cognitive ability, regardless of background

The 54 per cent figure for poorer children contrasts sharply with the 80 per cent of five-year-olds in the study’s highest income group who had average or above average vocabulary ability.

The figures did not change much when it came to children's problem-solving ability, with 53 per cent of those from the lowest income group having below average problem solving skills in comparison to 29 per cent of those from the wealthiest families.

The findings were published in the report ‘Tackling Inequalities in the Early Years: Key messages from 10 years of the Growing Up in Scotland study’ which tracked the lives of two groups of children born in Scotland in 2004/05 and 2010/11.

The report stated: ‘High quality early learning and childcare can help to reduce inequalities in cognitive development.

‘Children who attended providers with a high care and support grade as assessed by the Care Inspectorate were more likely to show improvement in vocabulary skills by age five, irrespective of their social background and other pre-school characteristics.

The value of parental instruction was key to helping children of all backgrounds, according to the report which stated: ‘A rich home learning environment can improve cognitive development for all children regardless of their socio-economic background.

'This means that what parents do with their children is important for developing cognitive ability.'

The study found being read to every day at 10 months, being actively involved in daily home learning activities at 22 months and visiting a wide range of places at 22 months were all significantly related to vocabulary ability even after taking account of socio-economic backgrounds.

The research also revealed that non-parental childcare (informal as well as formal) of between 17- 40 hours per week at age three had a significant impact on vocabulary among girls.

However, 40 hours or more of non-parental childcare per week at age three is ‘detrimental to children’s behavioural outcomes at age five, especially for girls.’

‘What is also reassuring is that the analysis found that the ‘fragmentation’ of childcare typical to many families, [exposure to multiple childcare providers], does not have a detrimental impact on cognitive development in the early years’.

One of the study's less positive findings were that at entry to primary school, children in the lowest income group were around twice as likely than those in the highest income group to exhibit borderline or abnormal social, emotional or behavioural health.

In response to the research, the National Day Nurseries Association’s chief executive Purnima Tanuku, said: “It's vital the right investment goes hand in hand with the government's priority on expanding hours and widening access to free childcare and early learning, to ensure high-quality provision that makes a difference for children's futures.”

To read the report visit


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