Children in childcare learn ‘just as well’ as those at home

Study finds no difference in cognitive abilities between those with parents and in childcare

It makes no difference to a young child’s cognitive abilities whether they are looked after by their parents or sent to childcare, such as creches, according a new study to be published on Thursday.

The findings are contained in the latest Growing Up in Ireland study, which is tracking the lives of about 20,000 children across the country.

The research examined how the childcare arrangements for children had at the age of three influenced their language and reasoning skills at aged five.

Dr Helen Russell of the ESRI, one of the report's authors, said the first five years of a child's life were of critical importance to their cognitive development.

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Dr Russell said the results showed children who attended childcare did just as well as those cared for full-time by their parents.

“It’s reassuring there isn’t a negative outcome – a lot of parents might be worried about that,” she said.

Half of the children in the study were in regular childcare when they turned three.

“A key issue for the future is evaluating the quality of care received in different settings,” said Dr Russell.

She said one of the main influences on cognitive abilities was the home learning environment. Important factors also included gender, as girls scored higher, and a “consistent parenting style”.

Dr Russell said while there was a small negative effect for children in 30 hours or more of care a week, it was minimal.

There was also no difference to a child’s abilities when childcare started before nine months.

Almost all of the children involved in the study had taken part in preschool education by age five.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist