Study: How Parents Play with Toddlers Predicts Academic Success

A new 15-year study shows that the ways parents play with their children at age 2 has a direct correlation with how well they perform academically throughout their school years.  Researchers from Utah State University’s department of Family, Consumer and Human Development (FCHD) followed 229 children from low-income families.  Mothers, fathers, or both parents played regularly with the children, and some of the children also received Early Head Start educational experiences.

The study isolated four types of play that had a direct effect on later academic performance:

  • Encouraging and engaging in pretend play
  • Presenting activities in an organized sequence of steps
  • Elaborating on the pictures, words, and actions in a book or on unique attributes of objects
  • Relating play activity or book text to the child’s experience

The role of each parent also was a factor.  The researchers looked at two different family types, those who lived with biological fathers and those who didn’t.  They found that in both these family situations, children perform better academically when mothers teach more during play with their toddlers. When live-in biological fathers teach during play with their toddlers, they make an additional positive contribution to their child’s 5th grade math and reading performance.

Image: Mother and daughter playing with blocks, via Shutterstock.

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  1. by Kelli

    On March 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Is there a citation for the resource that this article is based on? I would love to be able to read the original study!


  2. [...] after reading this summary of a study at Parents News Now, written by Holly Lebowitz Rossi, I’m left wondering if I did something right [...]

  3. by Mary Lou Johnson

    On June 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Richard, I’d like the source of the research study, too! The outcome of the study supports the concepts and techniques I share with parents so they can learn the best ways of talking with children to help them gain strong language skills.