Summarized by Jessica Cunningham
Research has shown that engaging in play is one of the most important skills for toddlers to learn, as most early schooling relies on learning through play. Supervised play provides them the scaffolding they need to engage in more structured school environments later on. Research has also shown that positive appraisal by others helps teens to build self-esteem and confidence. The aim of the Teens and Toddlers program involved in this study is two-fold: to provide special needs toddlers with supportive social relationships to prepare them for school, and to provide the young adults with a place to build self-esteem, awareness, and efficacy, while simultaneously encouraging them to be more reflective of their decision-making and reducing their risky behaviors.
The teenage mentors involved in this study were selected by their teachers, who rated each student on a risk questionnaire. Students who were frequently absent, displayed withdrawn or disruptive behavior, or who were performing below their academic capacity were considered to be at risk of participating in risky behaviors.
The pre-school children who required extra attention are matched with teenagers who have similar personality traits and background in order to facilitate engagement. They were selected at random from 16 nurseries across boroughs in London, and controls were matched on age, ethnicity, ability and gender from the same nursery as their intervention counterpart. Eighty-seven toddlers were in the experimental group, and 75 toddlers were in the control group. Despite the researchers’ best efforts to match based on ability, most toddlers in the experimental group showed lower ability than their control counterparts.
Teens were required to meet with their mentees once per week for one and a half hours for 18 weeks. Toddlers in the control group did not receive any intervention. There was also a classroom component of the program for the teenagers designed to fit into a school semester that was conducted by “Teens and Toddlers facilitators” who taught the classroom content and supervised the teens’ interactions with their mentees.
To measure the toddlers’ level of development, the researchers asked nursery school teachers to fill out the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile for each child involved in the study before and after the intervention. This profile assesses learning in the following areas: communication and language, physical development and personal, social, and emotional development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world, and expressive arts and design. Each goal is rated on a nine point scale from not meeting a goal to exceeding a goal.
The researchers found that toddlers in the experimental group showed significantly greater improvement in communication and language, physical development, understanding the world, expression and design compared to the control group. However, there were no significant differences between the experimental and control group for personal, social and emotional development, literacy, or mathematics. There were no significant effects due to age, ethnicity or gender.
The authors posit that involvement in the intervention helps improve development in: communication and language, physical development, understanding the world, and expression and design when compared to controls. The authors state that “the most significant improvement was found in communication and language scores, which is extremely important for school readiness, and predict subsequent mathematics and literacy skills”, so even though there were no discernible improvements in literacy or mathematics for the intervention group, participating in this intervention might lead to gains in these areas later on. The authors state that future studies should seek a larger sample size with a control group matched on ability, and from a different nursery to avoid potential contamination effects. Although there is a wealth of research showing that these types of interventions are effective, this study “does not reveal the mechanisms behind what makes this interaction so successful,” so future research needs to be done to better understand this relationship.
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