Nursery-aged children with the best vocabulary do better in school, study suggests 

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Nursery-aged children with the best vocabulary do better in school, study suggests

  • Study found children with big vocabularies were more engaged in later classes
  • Experts tested the abilities of almost 900 children before they started school
  • They then later observed during school time once  they entered the classroom
  • Authors say findings show small early changes impact future academic success

Teaching your preschooler a few extra words could be setting them up for a lifetime of academic success, a study suggests.

A study of almost 900 four-year-olds found those with larger vocabularies were more engaged with teachers and other children when they later started education. 

Researchers tested the youngsters’ abilities in the autumn and then checked in on them when they started school the following spring.  

The researchers say their findings show how even small differences in a child’s early years can have a large impact on their chances of academic success. 

They also hope the findings will help teachers identify children with smaller vocabularies when they start school for more support with their learning. 

The authors also noted that children who have learned to control impulsive behaviour before starting school also performed better in class  

Study lead author Qingqing Yang, an early education expert at Ohio State University in the United States, said the team’s findings demonstrated the impact of setting up young children for classroom success.    

‘This study demonstrated that the levels of vocabulary skills and inhibitory control that children exhibit in the autumn of the preschool years matter for their classroom engagement in different ways,’ she said.   

Children with larger vocabularies before they started school performed better when they entered the classroom an American study has found (stock image)

Children with larger vocabularies before they started school performed better when they entered the classroom an American study has found (stock image)

‘Children with lower inhibitory control and vocabulary skills appear to be at risk of displaying different kinds of non-engaging behaviours.’

She added the findings, published in the journal Early Education and Development, had implications not just for parents but for teachers as well.   

Language development milestones for three-to-four-year-olds

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a three-year-old should be able to:

Ask questions like ‘where is mommy/daddy

Can identify actions described in a picture such as ‘running’

Say their first name when asked

Speak well enough for other people to understand, most of the time

For a four-year-old the CDC says they should be able to:

Speak in sentences consisting of four or more words

Can say the lyrics from songs, story or nursery rhyme

Talks about at least one thing that happened during their day such as ‘I played a game’

Answer simple questions like ‘What is a coat for?’

Parents concerned about their child not meeting milestones are urged to contact their doctor.

Source: CDC

‘This suggests that teachers need to be able to recognise who may be susceptible to more negative engagement,’ she said. 

‘Given the large amount of time that children spend in the classroom, these findings have implications for optimising children’s vocabulary and inhibitory control development.’

Preschool, called nursery in the UK, are the years of informal education before a child start’s primary school. 

In the study, researchers tested 895 preschool children, who were split roughly evenly in terms of gender from eight different US states. 

Children’s vocabularies were tested in the fall (autumn) by assessors who asked them to name objects in picture.

Their ability to focus on a task was assessed via a ‘pencil test’ where the child was told to tap their pencil once when the assessor tapped their pencil twice.

Then, in the spring when the children started primary school, the researchers observed each child for an hour to see how well they performed in school.

They scored them on their social and communication skills and ability to stay on task.

Negative behaviour, such as conflict with teachers and classmates or failing to follow instructions was scored negatively.

They found children who performed better in the earlier vocabulary and focus tests had better interactions with their teachers and peers and were more engaged with their classroom tasks. 

The study tested children in English or Spanish depending on which was there predominant language

In the US, preschoolers are children between the age of three-and-five-years-old.

Whereas in the UK, nursery aged children are generally between the ages of three-and-four-years-old before they start school.


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