Parents who are involved in active play with their children during their toddler and preschool years may have better academic performance to look forward to, according to new research by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The findings come from a study of African American boys who were transitioning from preschool to kindergarten.
"The transition to kindergarten can be challenging for many children due to new expectations, social interactions, and physiological changes," said Iheoma Iruka, the study's lead author, in a statement. "Transitions may be even more arduous for African American boys, given the many challenges they are likely to face compared to their peers."
Iruka found four patterns for African American boys after they transitioned—and her team also demonstrated the key role that parenting plays in these outcomes.
Just over half the boys (51%) showed increases in language, reading, and math scores in kindergarten, but a sizeable group (19%) consisted of low achievers in preschool who declined even further academically after transition. The smallest group (11%) included early achievers who declined in kindergarten both academically and behaviorally; by contrast, 20% of the boys in the study comprised a group of early achievers who remained on their high-performing academic and social paths after the transition.
According to Iruka, the results clearly suggest that some African American boys experience challenges to their academic achievement and social skills as they move into to kindergarten.
"In addition, the two groups of early achievers is especially revealing about the importance of effective parenting," she said. "African American boys from homes where mothers frequently engaged in literacy activities and intentional teaching—and other activities like playing games and taking the child on errands—were likely to be in the high achieving groups."
Iruka's study also showed that parent-child interactions influence whether a high-achieving African American boy stays on course.
"It's important to note that the early achievers who declined academically and socially were more likely to be from homes in which the parents were inattentive," she said. "The group of boys with detached parents showed a significant decrease in their reading and math scores and an increase in aggression during the preschool-to-kindergarten transition."
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Image: African American boy, via Shutterstock