The Protective Role of Home Learning Activities in the Development of Head Start Children's School Readiness Skills: A Longitudinal Analysis of Learning Growth Rates from Preschool Through First Grade

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See, Heather M.
Klein, Elisa L.
Children's early learning experiences in the home have a significant impact on their readiness for school and future academic success. However, children in poverty often lack a high-quality home learning environment, and consequently, are more likely than their economically advantaged peers to be at risk for failure in school. In this study, data were analyzed from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey of 1997 (FACES), a national longitudinal study of children and families participating in the federal Head Start program. A latent growth model estimated children's growth trajectories in vocabulary, numeracy, and writing skills from Head Start through first grade, and the influence of engagement in home learning activities on children's skills. On average, children demonstrated skills that scored significantly below national norms. By first grade, children caught up on basic numeracy skills; however, they persisted to demonstrate significantly weaker vocabulary skills and slightly weaker writing skills. Risk factors, such as low income-to-needs, low parent education, a non-English home language, and multiple children age five and under in the home, were associated with weaker skills. Children who entered Head Start with the weakest skills grew at a faster rate than children with stronger skills, thus demonstrating the greatest gains over time. Moreover, families engaged in various home learning activities with their children during Head Start. A factor analysis produced three activity factors: Academic Stimulation, Community Enrichment, and Family Entertainment. Academic Stimulation was associated with stronger vocabulary, numeracy, and writing skills, while Community Enrichment was not associated with child outcomes, and Family Entertainment was negatively associated with numeracy and writing skills. Engagement in activities varied by child and family characteristics. Families with low income-to-needs engaged in significantly fewer activities across all three factors. This study advances our knowledge of the significant influence of family income-to-needs on children's early learning experiences and their development of fundamental cognitive readiness skills. The results further substantiate the need for family intervention programs designed to improve the quality of low-income children's home learning environments. Additionally, the findings illustrate the utility of latent growth modeling in estimating children's school readiness trajectories.