Ask many harried parents about the benefits of early childhood education, and they are likely to respond that the biggest benefit is that it gets the kids out of the house. But beyond the joke lies the hope—they want the very best for their children and hope that receiving an early childhood education will start their little ones down the path to success.
The interest in early childhood education can be traced back to the Head Start program. Funded in 1965, Head Start was intended to give children living in poverty a “leg up,” so to speak, by providing them with the social and intellectual basics many were not receiving at home. As of 2002, Head Start has enrolled 21,214,295 children. Middle class parents, hearing that children in poverty were being given a “head start,” wanted their own children to receive equal attention, and the number of preschools swelled.
According to Kathleen Cotton and Nancy Faires Conklin, early research on Head Start was disappointing. The children who had been in Head Start initially showed higher IQs than peers who had not participated, but by second grade these differences had faded away.
Benefits of Early Childhood Education
Since then, however, academics have had a change of heart and have stopped using IQ as the only measure of success. Cotton and Conklin report in their article that children who have been to preschool do have several advantages over their non-preschooled peers. These include better social skills, higher grades, better attitudes towards school, greater ability to concentrate on school work, and even a higher tendency to graduate high school and go on for further schooling or training.
Cotton and Conklin add just one caution that very young children should not be subjected to rigid academic settings. Research suggests that small children do better with fewer hours in school and some unstructured time for play and socialization.