Friday, October 3, 2008

Growing up in Australia

The Australian Federal Government has funded a longitudinal research study of children from birth to eleven years of age. The project is called Growing up In Australia and aims to examine the impact of Australia's unique social and cultural environment on the next generation. It also hopes to increase our understanding of early childhood development, inform social policy debate, and help identify opportunities for early intervention and prevention strategies in policy areas concerning children. The project was launched in 2004 and is now beginning to release reports and findings. In recent weeks there has been widespread reporting of general findings relating to the first three to four years of life. This has included:
  • Media reports - for example Carol Nader reported this week in major Australian newspapers on the first reports (here)
  • Official research reports - these are available from the Australian Institute of Family Studies website (here) and from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) here.
  • A series of programs on "Life at 3" years has just been launched on ABC television and premiered today (2nd October). It will continue on Thursdays at 8.30pm on ABC One (details here)

Details of the study

The study has a broad, multi-disciplinary base, draws on a nationally representative sample of children and addresses a range of research questions about family functioning, health, non-parental child-care and education. Data are being collected over seven years from two cohorts every two years. The first cohort of 5000 children aged less than 12 months in 2003/4 will be followed until they reach 6 to 7 years of age, and the second cohort comprising 5000 children aged 4 years in 2003/4 will be followed until they reach 10 or 11 years of age. Study informants include the child (when of an appropriate age) and their parents, carers and teachers.

The most recent research paper has just been released:

How well are Australian infants and children aged 4 to 5 years doing?

The report deals with:
  • outcomes for children in different social circumstances;
  • children's health;
  • children's use of non-parental care;
  • mothers' health;
  • family learning environments and child outcomes.
The impact of book reading and television

The section of most interest to me is the latter and has turned up some interesting findings. Features of family learning environments that showed strong evidence of being positively associated with higher learning outcomes included the following:
  • the child is read to on three or more days per week;
  • there are more than 10 children's books in the home;
  • the child enjoys being read to for more than 10 minutes at a time;
  • the child has access to a computer in the home;
  • the child has medium to high engagement in out-of-home learning activities with family members.

The findings indicated some worrying impacts from excessive television viewing. Children who watched three or more hours of television on week days or five hours or more on the weekend, were more likely to have lower outcome scores in varied categories including physical, social–emotional and learning.

The importance of the family learning environment

The study also concluded that while much of the diversity in knowledge and skills that children bring to school can be linked to social background, the differences in learning and developmental outcomes related to the family learning environment, are apparent irrespective of the social and economic circumstances of the family. This shows the significance of the family learning environment on child outcomes, something that has also been established by other researchers.

You can read this section of the report in full here.

1 comment:

hardygreenwood said...

I was reading a child psychology book just yesterday, by Miriam Stoppard, that said a child (between the ages of 2 - 6 yo) can only watch about 40 minute of television. After 40 minutes, it becomes mesmerising, rather that taking it in. Interesting, I thought.