Research on preschool care

Results of research on the effects of group size, child-staff ratios and staff training on the quality of child care have been consistent. Both the adult-child ratio and the total number of children in a group are clearly linked to program quality. In smaller groups, children spend more time interacting with other children and less time simply watching. Children in smaller groups tend to be more verbal, more involved in activities and less aggressive, and they make the greatest gains on standardized tests of learning and vocabulary. In addition, children in classrooms with lower ratios between children and adults are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate activities and more likely to imitate adult gestures and speech.

Conversely, having more children per adult is associated, in very young children, with greater exposure to danger, as well as more visible apathy and distress. Staff members spend more time managing and controlling behavior in large groups. The adult-child ratio is the single best predictor of the quality of care for children.

Teacher preparation is also an accurate gauge of the quality of a program. Child-development training is linked to more social interaction between adults and children and more cooperation and task persistence among children. Children score better on tests of cognition and social competence when the adults who care for them have higher levels of formal education and child-related training. Staff with more education tend to be less authoritarian, less punitive, and more involved with children. Significantly, however, the amount of staff experience with children is not by itself a predictor of effective caregiving.

Good care has long-term effects. Children from higher-quality preschools are more socially competent in elementary school, are more empathetic and better liked by their peers. Importantly, states that have mandated significantly reduced adult-child ratios, for example, Arizona and Ohio, have not experienced a decrease in the number of quality preschools or the number of spaces for children. In fact, enrollment in both these states has increased.

“The Effects of Group Size, Ratios, and Staff Training on Child Care Quality”, Young Children, Volume 48, Number 2, pp. 65-67.

Published in ERN March/April 1993, Volume 6, Number 2.

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