As parents and educators, one of the best things we can do to understand the way children develop is to dig into the scientific literature. This blog post explains one 2015 study that has significant relevance about how a child's early life can impact their adulthood.
The Focus of Early Child Education
When we think of school, we usually think of it as a place where students go to learn, accumulate knowledge, and get smarter. However, intelligence and academics aren't the only part of the school experience that help a child grow, especially for younger kids. In fact, a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2015 revealed that the social skills children learned in kindergarten may be even more important than the academics in terms of how they impact the way their lives develop. Here's a breakdown of the findings of the study.
About the Study
To conduct this study, researchers looked at kindergarten students in less wealthy neighborhoods in three cities and one rural town with a total sample size of 753 children. The sample was rather diverse, including 58% boys, 42% girls, 50% White students, 46% African American, and 4% students of other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
The researchers looked at data collected in 1991, when the children were in kindergarten, and compared it to follow-up data from 19 years later when they were around 25 years old. The study looked at how the kids turned out in early adulthood, taking into consideration things like education, employment, public assistance, crime, mental health, and substance use. It also looked at the children's social competence in kindergarten, analyzing what effect it had on a child's later life.
What the study found was that prosocial skills in kindergarten, like being cooperative and helpful, were predictive of timely high school graduation, completing a college degree, and stable and full-time employment. Essentially, the better a child's social skills were at a very young age, the more likely they were to grow up and succeed in school and work.
They also found that early prosocial skills predicted a lower likelihood of taking medication for emotional or behavioral issues through high school, using public assistance, being involved with the police, and being in a detention facility. The researchers concluded that early social competence has a unique ability to predict how a child might turn out as an adolescent and young adult, with more social children growing up to be what we would traditionally consider a functioning, contributing member of society.
One of the main takeaways that the researchers themselves point out in the article is that evaluating social skills in young children is important, as it gives educators an opportunity to plan interventions and curriculum specifically aimed toward improving the sociability of a child who might be lacking.
For teachers of young students, this means that you should recognize the value of developing social skills in kids, and focus on it as much as, if not more, than other, 'hard' academic skills. It's also worth pointing out that this study was based on kindergarten teachers' evaluations of their students' social skills, which implies the uniquely impactful ability of teachers to identify when a child might need extra social help. If, as a teacher, you notice that a student might be weak in social skills, noting so, sharing the information with family, and taking steps to intervene can potentially have a major impact on the child's future.
For parents and guardians, it might be a good idea to speak to the teachers of your young children to find out how they are doing socially and put a plan into place to teach any skills that are missing. If homeschooling, it's critical to make sure your children don't lag behind socially because they are not attending a traditional school. Using an online curriculum like Study.com can free up the busywork that is often a part of homeschooling. As a result, your children can finish academics in as few as two hours of study time per day, using the rest of the time to participate in group activities that are more engaging and rich socially than traditional classrooms.
Ultimately, we can intuitively understand that how we are as kids can have great bearing on the adults that we become. This study confirms that there is one trait, in particular, that is highly important to our children's futures: sociability.
For homeschool families looking to augment their curriculum, Study.com is a great, engaging option that students love.