Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) and Reading Acquisition in At-Risk Readers: Does Quantity Matter?

Article excerpt

Early childhood education and care (ECEC), involving nonparental preschool supervision and programming for children in centre-based and school contexts, can influence academic outcomes during elementary years. We present preliminary findings identifying quantity and timing as important but relatively little investigated aspects of ECEC experience. We focus on associations among cumulative ECEC hours during the early preschool (birth to 24 months prior to the commencement of Grade 1) and late preschool (24 months prior to Grade 1) periods, and later growth in children's achievement in letter naming, decoding, and reading comprehension. Ninety-four children, aged 72 to 91 months at the outset, were examined across five testing occasions spanning the first two-and-a-half years of formal schooling. The quantity of ECEC in the early and late periods did not independently account for significant variance in initial status or growth in reading outcomes. However, differential influences of timing and quantity in children at risk of developing reading difficulty and in children experiencing family SES risk were found for decoding and comprehension. Results are consistent with a contextual support model of influence of ECEC quantity, and they indicate contextual circumstances in which ECEC experience may be a protective factor for early reading development.

Keywords: early and late ECEC, quantity of care, reading development, at-risk readers, sociocontexual risk

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Most studies of reading acquisition make the explicit or tacit assumption that children's skills are developed in some combination of home, chi Ideare, preschool, and school settings. As increasing numbers of preschool children attend out-of-home childcare and early learning centres, these experiences may play lasting roles in reading acquisition in early elementary school education.

Unlike elementary schooling, there are unique characteristics of early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings that differentiate them as learning sites. Chief among these is that childcare is offered as a market-service for which parents either pay a high fee or qualify by virtue of very low income for a fee subsidy, and that ECEC is not a mandatory part of early childhood experience. Hence, children from a wide range of income backgrounds can experience ECEC (Cleveland, Forer, Hyatt, Japel, & Krashinsky, 2008; Lero, Goelman, Pence, Brockman, & Nuttal, 1992; Michalopoulos & Robins, 2002).

In this paper, we report suggestive findings about the relationship between children's attendance in ECEC settings and reading achievement for children in Canada. We explore how the quantity and timing of children's ECEC experiences relate to reading development, and we suggest a research agenda for Canadians interested in following the impact of ECEC on later academic growth. With an increasing majority of Canadian children from infancy to age five experiencing nonparental childcare (Bushnik, 2006), the need to understand how this experience influences short- and long-term development in children becomes more critical (Bierman et al., 2008; Bushnik, 2006; Capizzano, Adams, & Sonenstein, 2000; Kohen, Hertzman, & Willms, 2002).

Our definition of ECEC refers to licensed child-care centres, early education programs, school-based nurseries and kindergartens. This definition is consistent with contemporary definitions in U.S. and Canadian literature that include contexts that precede mandatory education beginning in Grade 1 (Cleveland et al., 2008; Connelly & Rimmel, 2003; Friendly, 2008). Our focus on ECEC permits an assumption of consistent and high quality in comparison to nonlicensed settings, which have less consistent and often lower quality, as documented in the U.S. (e.g., Dowsett, Huston, lmes, & Gennetian, 2008; Li-Grining & Coley, 2006), and Canada (Goelman, Doherty, Lero, LaGrange & Tougas, 2001; Howe & Jacobs, 1995; Kohen et al. …