High-Quality Child Care Linked to Long-Term Success in Science and Math, Particularly for Low-Income Children

Children who receive excellent child care during their early years have a greater likelihood of achieving success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects throughout high school, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

The research findings reveal a stronger connection between high-quality child care and STEM achievement for children from low-income backgrounds.

Andres S. Bustamante, PhD, from the University of California Irvine and the study’s author, highlights the significance of caregiving quality during early childhood as a foundation for future STEM success. Bustamante suggests that investing in quality child care and early childhood education could help address the underrepresentation of racially and ethnically diverse populations in STEM fields.

The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, draws on data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Researchers analyzed information from 979 families, spanning from the child’s birth in 1991 until 2006.

Trained observers assessed the quality of child care by evaluating the extent to which caregivers provided a warm and supportive environment, responded to children’s interests and emotions, and offered cognitive stimulation through rich language use, thoughtful questioning, and feedback to enhance understanding. The researchers then examined the students’ performance in STEM subjects during elementary and high school.

The results revealed that both cognitive stimulation and caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness predicted higher STEM achievement in late elementary school, which, in turn, translated into greater success in high school STEM subjects. The significance of caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness was particularly pronounced for children from low-income families.

Bustamante emphasizes that cognitive stimulation and caregiver sensitivity in early childhood play critical roles in fostering STEM learning. The study underscores the importance of investing in high-quality early care practices to establish a strong foundation for science education, especially for children from low-income households. By doing so, it is possible to strengthen the STEM pipeline and promote diversity in these fields.

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