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London - Young children looked after by middle-class grandparents develop better vocabulary than those in creche, a study has revealed.
They are “significantly ahead” by the age of three due to the amount of one-on-one time they spend with a loving adult.
The head start relates more to children who live in better-off households, where grandparents tend to have higher levels of education and “are likely to be better carers than formal carers” in relation to the early learning of new words.
For less well-off homes, the researchers believe that while children are not put at a “significant” disadvantage in terms of vocabulary, their grandparents “may not confer the advantages” that formal care provides.
A similar distinction was suggested in social development.
The researchers found a “positive association between socio-emotional development and being looked after by grandparents among more educated families”, which was still apparent by the age of five.
By contrast, children from disadvantaged backgrounds were thought to receive a slight benefit from formal childcare.
The findings were published in a review of childcare studies by researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Bryson Purdon Social Research, Essex University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and the National Centre for Social Research.
Funded by charity the Nuffield Foundation, the conclusions highlight the important role grandparents can play through “informal” childcare.
Half of pre-school children whose parents work are looked after part of the time by relations, usually grandparents. At primary school age, the proportion increases to 60 percent and then to 82 percent by the time children start secondary school.
The report says that most parents choose to leave their children with grandparents for “positive” reasons such as the “caring environment” rather than simply because they can’t afford formal childcare.
The researchers, led by social scientist Caroline Bryson, examined the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows the lives of almost 19,000 children. They looked at different forms of childcare, vocabulary development and how prepared children were to start school.
“By the age of three, they [those looked after by grandparents] were significantly further ahead than children in centre-based care,” they said.
“Evidence suggests in terms of vocabulary development, if you are from an advantaged background, grandparents are likely to be better carers than formal carers, maybe because of differences in their education levels or potentially through differences in type of engagement that both groups have with the children in their care.”
Grandparents often have “one- on-one time with their grandchildren in which to talk and interact”, they said.
Sue Palmer, a literacy expert and author, said: “The single biggest thing a grandparent can bring is love and a general interest in that particular child. Grandparents are obviously going to be more concerned about that than someone who is being paid.”
- Daily Mail