June 9, 2023

Some research on Home v. ECE

Their 1982 study, “Adults’ Cognitive Demands at Home and at Nursery School,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 23, found that more cognitive demands were placed on four-year- olds at home by mothers than at nursery school by teachers. One study done in 1983, “Language and Social Class:  Is Verbal Deprivation a Myth?”, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24, found that significantly more complex language was used at home by parents and children than at school by teachers and children.
In a 1983 study, this team aimed “…to see whether young children’s questions, especially their ‘why’ questions, were more frequent in certain contexts, settings, (home v. nursery school) and social class groups than in others.  We assumed that such questions were potentially valuable both as expressions of curiosity and also because they provided occasions for adults to enlarge the child’s understanding.” Some of their findings included:  Many more questions were asked by children at home than at school; Ten of the 15 working-class girls asked no “why” questions at school; Most children’s questions were asked when the adult was stationary for a prolonged period of time and not too busy–a context rare at school; Persistent questioning (at least 22 turns of adult-child conversation) was rare at school compared to at home; “….teachers asked a far larger proportion of questions than did mothers…”; “…the children seem to learn very quickly that their role at school is to answer, not to ask questions”; Most “why” questions and persistent questioning concerned non-play objects and events, especially those outside the present context, whereas most school conversations were just the opposite; Working-class girls were particularly affected by the school setting, asked fewer questions, asked more procedual questions and exhibited less curiosity. (10)

(10) “Children’s Questions and Adults’ Answers”, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24.



At home, children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up and death – about things they had done together in the past, and plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shapes of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed. But at pre-school, the richness, the depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing.  So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made on both sides. The questioning, puzzling child we were so taken with at home was gone. Conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children, and play material. — Professors Barbara Tizard and Martin Hughes at London University.

How do we pass on all this knowledge to infants and young children? Well, from birth, almost instinctively, we as parents provide our children with a kind of communication support system. We even respond to babies’ burps, gurgles and wind as if they’re conversation openers, which in a sense I suppose they are! As children get older, we answer hordes of questions, we point out things we think might be of interest and talk about them. And we take up anything our children show an interest in and talk about that, all in the course of day-to-day living. In other words, we are constantly in tune with the Child’s Theory of Learning, which they have to abandon once they start school. This has been graphically described in the celebrated study by Professors Barbara Tizard and Martin Hughes at London University. They compared the quality of learning of three to four year olds in pre-school, which the children attended in the mornings, with unintentional learning at home in the afternoons. Against all expectations, the researchers were struck by the high quality of language and learning at home, irrespective of the parents’ level of education. —  Alan Thomas, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Northern Territory, Darwin.


From the Smiths:


Updated 16 September 2012: Life for Those Left Behind (Craig Smith’s Health) page 6 click here


Needing help for your home schooling journey:



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