Building blocks of learning start in infancy

Parents can start the building blocks of learning for infants and toddlers through reading, learning-based play and engaging conversations.

The human brain develops most rapidly in the first five years of life and research has established the impact reading to toddlers and infants has on their later academic achievements, conveying a literacy-rich environment from an early age enables children to build their literacy skills more readily.

New research from New York University has further established strong links between engaging, quality play, talking with infants and toddlers and academic achievement in primary school years.

The team found infants and toddlers who were provided with appropriate learning opportunities, through books, educational toys, learning activities and meaningful conversations were more likely to develop early cognitive skills.

Researchers from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development published results of their study of more than 2200 children from birth to Year 5 in the Applied Developmental Science Journal last month.

They cited three key features of home learning which were found to support language development and pre-academic skills; participation in learning activities, quality parent/child interactions and the availability of learning materials such as books and toys.

NYU Applied Psychology Professor and lead study author Catherine Tamis-LeMonda said there was growing evidence of the power of early learning environments on later academic success.

“Our study confirms that strong home learning environments arm children with foundational skills that are springboards to long-term academic achievement,” Dr Tamis-LeMonda said.

Researchers tracked children from infancy through to primary schooling, looking at literacy activities used in the home environment (such as story-telling and reading), learning materials available (i.e. books, appropriate toys or games to facilitate learning) and the quality of parental interactions with the children, such as labelling objects and responding to children’s cues.

The team found positive early learning environments supported the development of pre-academic skills which persisted into early adolescence (Year 5). Study results were also found to be similar for children of different racial and social backgrounds.

The 10-year research project also revealed parents tended to maintain initial learning and engagement opportunities throughout their child’s childhood.

Researchers found the learning environments of the children studied were likely to remain stable from infancy through childhood, suggesting early learning and engagement patterns set by parents either continued to support or negatively impact the development of academic skill in childhood.