The summary below presents the research evidence on early years intervention in the Australasian context.
The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of early years intervention on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.
This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on early years intervention. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of early years interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.
Melbourne Graduate School of Education generated this summary and it is current for June 2016.
Summary of Australasian Research
Early years or early childhood interventions are approaches that aim to ensure that young children have educationally based pre-school or kindergarten experiences which prepare for school and academic success, usually through additional kindergarten or pre-school provision.
Internationally, the large body of research that includes meta-analyses on American early childhood education (ECE) indicates that formal early years programs correlate with better academic outcomes. In an Australasian context, there is considerably less research on the topic, but ECE programs have been found to improve children’s school readiness, especially among disadvantaged children.
The transition from ECE to school is important, and preschool teachers and parents play an important role in helping a child develop continuity between the two phases (Skouteris, Watson & Lum 2012). Claessens and Garrett (2014) conducted a comparative study of the various ECE programs in Australia and found preschools and child care centres to be equally effective in promoting early academic skills. Children who did not attend any form of ECE programs lagged behind in school readiness. However, more research is needed to understand how best to sustain the benefits of ECE programs, which fade out by late primary school.
Krieg, Curtis, Hall and Westenberg (2015) found that quality of, ECE programs affect children’s early school outcome, especially those from disadvantaged families. Their findings also indicate that access to quality ECE is unevenly distributed amongst disadvantaged and less disadvantaged children.
A study by Warren and Haisken-DeNew (2013) revealed the substantial impacts of pre-school on later schooling attainment and the importance of qualified ECE teaching personnel. Compared to children who did not attend pre-school, average NAPLAN scores of Year 3 students were 20 to 30 points higher among children who had attended pre-school. Among children who had attended a pre-school program in the year prior to formal schooling, average NAPLAN scores were highest among those whose pre-school teacher had a diploma-level qualification in early childhood education or child care, and lowest for those whose teacher had only a certificate-level qualification.
The study by Westerveld, Gillon, van Bysterveldt and Boyd (2015) investigated the emergent literacy and language skills of 92 four-year-old children from seven kindergartens in Christchurch, New Zealand. All children were assessed individually based on a number of tasks that included a storytelling and comprehension task, letter knowledge and initial phoneme identification task, name writing, and a home literacy questionnaire. There was a significant positive correlation between the number of times children were read to at other times of the week and their ability to retell a story (r=.335, p=.028). There was a positive correlation between the number of books in homes and letter name knowledge (r=.456, p=.001), and positive associations between the number of times a week parents reported teaching their child to read words and ability to write names (r=.357, p=.008) and letter name knowledge (r=.426, p=.001). There was a negative correlation between the age from which the children were read to and their name writing (r= −.277, p =.043) and initial phoneme awareness ability (r= −.311, p=.022).
In a special needs context, Rickards, Walstab, Wright-Rossi, Simpson and Reddihough (2009) examined the impact on cognition and behaviour of an early intervention program in Australia. The program involved working with 59, three- to five-year-old, children with autism or developmental delay and their families to develop their emotional and social capacity, building on behavioural management and speech pathology if needed. Children were recruited over three years and were followed from their initial involvement with the program until one year after its conclusion. Cognition and behaviour was measured and observed at different time points. Significant benefits observed immediately after program conclusion were maintained one year later. The mean IQ for the intervention group increased by 5.8 points from Time 1 to Time 3, while the mean IQ for the control decreased by 2.8 points.
Topic-specific enrichment also has been shown to be effective for early childhood learning. Van Aswegen and Pendergast (2015) evaluated an ECE enrichment program designed to increase students’ interest in a topic (flowers) and ability to provide basic concepts of the topic. The program focused on sensitive periods for learning and assisted parents to a take a proactive approach to their child’s learning. Data were collected using questionnaires, photographic and film recordings, and field notes. The findings revealed that program participation had a positive impact on students’ interest in, and basic concept of, flowers. The program also had a positive impact on parental involvement in learning.
Claessens, A., & Garrett, R. (2014). The role of early childhood settings for 4–5 year old children in early academic skills and later achievement in Australia. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(4), 550-561.
Krieg, S., Curtis, D., Hall, L., & Westenberg, L. (2015). Access, quality and equity in early childhood education and care: A South Australian study. Australian Journal of Education, 59(2), 119-132.
Westerveld, M. F., Gillon, G. T., van Bysterveldt, A. K., & Boyd, L. (2015). The Emergent Literacy Skills of Four-Year-Old Children Receiving Free Kindergarten Early Childhood Education in New Zealand. International Journal of Early Years Education, 23(4), 339-351.
Rickards, A. L., Walstab, J. E., Wright-Rossi, R. A., Simpson, J., & Reddihough, D. S. (2009). One-year follow-up of the outcome of a randomized controlled trial of a home-based intervention programme for children with autism and developmental delay and their families. Child: Care, Health & Development, 35(5), 593-602.
Skouteris, H., Watson, B., & Lum, J. (2012). Preschool children’s transition to formal schooling: The importance of collaboration between teachers, parents and children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(4), 78-85.
Warren, D., & Haisken-DeNew, J. P. (2013). Early bird catches the worm: The causal impact of pre-school participation and teacher qualifications on Year 3 National NAPLAN Cognitive Tests. The University of Melbourne, VIC: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.
van Aswegen, C., & Pendergast, D. (2015). Evaluating an enrichment program in early childhood: a multi-methods approach. International Research in Early Childhood Education, 6(1), 38-61.
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Pre-school; kindergarten; early childhood education; effective; benefits; early years; Australia; New Zealand.