Understanding Child Outcomes from Early to Middle Childhood

The Singapore Kindergarten Impact Project (SKIP) was initiated in 2014 with the aim of studying child development across the pre-school years. The early childhood period is a crucial time in a child’s development as it lays the foundation for later outcomes such as academic performance and well-being. What occurs when the child enters middle childhood? To provide a holistic view of child outcomes across the early and middle childhood years, a follow-up study, “SKIP-Up”, for short, has been mounted. Dr Fannie Khng Kiat Hui, Senior Education Research Scientist with the Centre for Research in Child Development at NIE, tells us more about this project.

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A Follow-Up Study

Involving approximately 1,500 children across 80 local kindergartens and childcare centers, the Singapore Kindergarten Impact Project (SKIP) tracked the development of the children from the start of Kindergarten 1 to the start of Primary 1.

“The study found that the strongest predictors of outcomes in a child’s early development were the child’s starting competency level in areas such as English literacy, socioemotional skills and executive functioning; socioeconomic status (SES); and non-verbal intelligence,” says Dr Fannie Khng, also Assistant Dean of Research Management at Office of Education Research (OER).

A follow-up study, named “SKIP-Up” for short, was launched to continue exploring the long-term effects of early childhood skills attainment as well as the roles home and school environments play in a child’s development as they grow into middle childhood.

Skills Attainment during Childhood

SKIP-Up examines both early and concurrent predictors of skills and well-being outcomes important for children as they exit middle childhood. The study involves a subset of the same group of children as SKIP, and additionally, some of these children’s classmates in Primary 5 or 6. The study investigates childhood outcomes such as academic skills, executive functioning and self-regulation as well as attributes such as mindset, resilience and school engagement. “The attributes and skills children have developed near the end of primary school will be important for their next phase in development,” she emphasizes.

Preliminary findings show that early childhood executive functioning and fine motor skills continue to directly (and indirectly) predict late primary school math and reading fluency. “Furthermore, a child who exhibits executive functioning difficulties in school during early childhood is more likely to experience similar difficulties during upper primary school,” Fannie shares. She adds that the study is still in progress and more comprehensive findings are anticipated in the near future.

Classroom and Home Environments

SKIP-Up also seeks to examine potential moderators within the child or the child’s environment – such as child environmental sensitivity, intervening activities/experiences, and classroom climate – that may influence outcomes.

Fannie notes that the earlier SKIP study had found negligible impact of classroom quality on early childhood outcomes. However, there have been studies conducted in Europe that found process quality at preschools to have small but lasting effects on children’s language literacy and math outcomes in primary school.

“Given the negligible impact of classroom quality on early child outcomes found in SKIP, SKIP-Up will seek to examine whether the quality of early childhood education classrooms in Singapore contribute towards children’s longer-term development,” she shares.

SKIP also found that familial SES was an important predictor of preschoolers’ executive functioning, numeracy, and language and literacy skills.

“More research should be done on the longer-term impact of the early home environment, as well as the continuing influence of home factors” Fannie says. “Of interest is whether SES, like the early competencies, continue to be influential predictors of outcomes at middle childhood, and if the predictive links can be moderated by other intervening processes and contexts.”

Another direction the study is taking is investigating children found to be at-risk of poor outcomes.

“Investigations will also be focused on the later development of children found in early childhood to be at-risk of poor outcomes, as well as the early predictors of children later found to be at-risk in middle childhood,” she explains.

The study will also look closely at the link between SES and socioemotional well-being that becomes more apparent in middle childhood, especially in terms of externalizing problems such as behavioural regulation, and internalizing problems such as depression.

“SKIP-Up will seek to examine whether the quality of early childhood education classrooms in Singapore contribute towards children’s longer-term development.”– Fannieon the aims of the study

Optimizing Children’s Outcomes

Fannie acknowledges that there is currently limited knowledge on the delayed effects of early childhood factors, such as quality of preschool classrooms. Lack of research into these areas can underestimate implications for policy and practice regarding early childhood education.

“Understanding the longer-term effects will better inform practice and policy, for instance, on teacher training, as teachers can be trained to provide greater classroom support in various domains”, she remarks.

SKIP-Up will also allow school leaders and teachers to have a better understanding of the effectiveness of the different intervention programmes available for learners.

“Understanding if participating in activities or interventions – including school-based programmes – moderates the link between early childhood competencies and later competencies can inform the design and provision of supportive activities for children, especially those with disadvantaged backgrounds or starting states, to enhance their outcomes,” she attests.

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