EDGE OF DISCOVERY
Third in a series of articles on cutting-edge research at Harvard.
A young child spends weekdays with her grandmother down the street while her parents work. Another attends an unlicensed day care center run by a neighbor. A third is with his stay-at-home dad. A fourth is cared for by a private nanny in the comfort of her own house.
Researchers have long studied how small children grow and learn in formal, high-quality preschool programs, and have found that they develop better language, math, and literacy skills as well as stronger social and emotional connections than those who don’t attend.
Yet little is known about the children who are looked after under informal arrangements involving neighbors, relatives, friends, or nannies, even though these cover 40 percent of children in Massachusetts.
Two Harvard researchers are working to figure that out.
Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) professors Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie Jones, both developmental psychologists, are launching an ambitious study to follow 5,000 children, ages 3 and 4, for four years. The study will track some students before and after their elementary school years, and perhaps into adulthood. The cohort, recruited from 168 communities, is designed to reflect the changing demographics of children across the state.
Through the Early Learning Study at Harvard, Lesaux and Jones aim to update the science around child care by examining the links between children’s development and the characteristics of the educational and care settings where they spend their formative years, be those relatives’ homes or unlicensed daycare centers or, for comparison, local Head Starts and Montessori preschools.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions that parents, communities, policymakers, and school districts are grappling with,” said Lesaux, the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society and the School’s academic dean. “And we don’t have enough specific information to drive 21st-century policy in early education.”