Benefits of early intervention
Bookstart, like other early learning programmes, is premised on the idea that engagement with children at a very young age can have a lasting impact on social and cognitive development. Research suggests that close engagement with a baby or toddler, whether undertaken by a parent at home or by an early years professional in a nursery, can provide a developmental head start that improves the life chances of individuals through childhood and into adult life.
Bookstart and nursery-based early learning programmes emerged in response to pioneering work in developmental psychology begun in the 1960s that explored the importance of early experience for brain and behavioural development. In contrast to approaches that understood intelligence solely as a hereditary trait, psychologists increasingly began to focus on the influence of environmental conditions for cognitive and language development. Cognitive and behavioural development in early years, it was claimed, could be positively shaped when individuals experienced appropriate intervention.
Researchers documented the performance of pioneering pre-school projects such as Head Start and the High/Scope Perry preschool in the United States with keen interest. Longitudinal studies of these programmes revealed impressive results. Participants consistently demonstrated improved language and literacy performance upon school entry and enduring cognitive and behavioural benefits through childhood into adulthood. For example, tracking the progress of children from the age of 3 to age 41 the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study has demonstrated lasting effects on participant’s later educational achievement, economic success, and avoidance of criminal activity. Almost a third of the programme group reported monthly earnings at age 27 of $2,000 or more, significantly more than the 7% of the control group who reported such earnings. Programme group members averaged 2.3 arrests by age 28, significantly fewer than the 4.6 arrests averaged by member of the control group (Schweinhart, 2003).
Long term benefits
Building on the insights of this research, Bookstart and more formal early learning programmes distinguish themselves by their claim to influence a formative stage of development. By helping to positively influence development at an early stage, these interventions aim to reduce the likelihood that an individual will exhibit learning difficulties and behavioural problems later on in life. The early development of social, language and cognitive skills, this research suggests, provides an essential foundation for an individual’s engagement with the world as they grow older: a child with strong competencies in these skills will be more predisposed to acquire the skills and emotional disposition that pave the way to a productive and responsible adult life.
Early intervention and Bookstart
Like nursery-based intervention programmes, Bookstart has proven its effectiveness in helping children advance developmental competences. By encouraging early interaction with books, Bookstart helps nurture children’s literacy and cognitive skills as well as enhance emotional development thereby facilitating progress through school and into adulthood.
Longitudinal studies of the impact of Bookstart have demonstrated how the programme has led to an improvement of language and literacy performance upon school entry at the age of four, Foundation Stage. Tracking children’s performance up to their Key Stage 1 assessment at age seven studies show how Bookstart children maintain this advantage throughout their first five years of primary education. Mean scores for a range of literacy and numeracy tests showed Bookstart children outperforming their non-Bookstart counterparts by between 1 and 5% (Wade and Moore, 2000).
Studies have yet to track the progress of Bookstart children beyond the primary years. Nevertheless, there is good reason to suggest that Bookstart is likely to yield the type of long term benefits for participants that studies have observed for other early intervention programmes. Moreover, evidence suggests that home-based initiatives are particularly effective in fostering long term developmental benefits. Where a programme such as Bookstart successfully encourages the adoption of a learning-friendly environment in the home, children are likely to develop and maintain strong language, literacy and numeracy skills (Sylva, et al. 2003). As with other learning programmes, the grounding provided by Bookstart is likely to give children an enduring advantage over their counterparts in their learning aptitude and ability to face challenges encountered in their adult lives.
Barnett, Steven W. (1996) Lives in the Balance: Age-27 Benefit-Cost Analysis of
the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Ypsilanti, Mich. High/Scope Press.
Schweinhart, Lawrence. (2003) Benefits, Costs, and Explanation of the
High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Paper presented at the Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. Tampa, Florida. April.
Sylva, K & Melhuish, E, Sammons, P, Siraj-Blatchford, I, Taggart, B (2003) The
Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Pre-School to end of Key Stage 1
Wade, B & Moore, M (2000) ‘A Sure Start with Books’ Early Years 20, 2.