Pre-schoolers' home learning 'does not make any difference'

17th September 2010 at 01:00
It's income and educational background that boosts pupils' achievements, research reveals

Teaching children to recite the alphabet or play musical instruments before they start school has no impact on their educational attainment, according to research.

Parents attempting to educate young children and even helping them with homework have little impact on their literacy or social development, according to Dimitra Hartas of Warwick University.

The educational background and affluence of parents play a far greater role in their children's schooling than a willingness to help, Dr Hartas said.

Her findings are based on a survey of the parents of 15,600 children from across the country.

The parents, from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, were questioned first when their children were three years old, and again two years later. They were asked how often, and in what ways, they helped their children to learn.

However, willingness to offer such activities as telling stories or playing music made no difference at all. "Children's language, literacy and social-emotional development were not affected by the frequency of home-learning activities," Dr Hartas said. "Whether parents engaged daily or once or twice a week with these activities did not make any substantive difference."

Instead, by the end of their first year in school, children's achievements tended to be directly related to their parents' wealth. Those pupils who came from more advantaged backgrounds were significantly outperforming their poorer classmates.

Dr Hartas found that children with better-educated mothers also displayed greater literacy and social skills. Children whose parents had degree- level qualifications were an average of six months ahead of their peers with less educated parents.

This remained true regardless of how often the wealthier or better- educated parents helped their children to learn, according to the research.

The study also concluded that the more money parents had to invest in educational equipment, the more likely they were to create a home environment conducive to learning.

But Sue Palmer, a literacy consultant and early-years specialist, insists that parents who teach their children rhymes or songs can influence school results.

"If very poor families sing to their children, read to their children, play with their children, those children will go on to do well at school," she commented.

Dr Hartas's findings were reported at the annual British Educational Research Association conference, held at Warwick University earlier this month.

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