How does the home environment influence children’s learning?

How does the home environment influence children’s learning?

23 September 2015
How does the home environment influence children’s learning?

This article describes findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children on how the home environment influences children’s learning.

The latest findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian children (LSAC) shed light on a range of factors in a child’s home environment that affect both reading ability and numeracy levels as measured in grade 3.

The study identified four broad dimensions of children’s home learning environments:

  • home activities, including teaching the child a song, playing games, and doing arts and crafts activities;
  • number of days per week the primary carer or an adult in the family read to the child;
  • number of children’s books in the child’s home; and
  • out-of-home activities, including visiting a library or zoo, going on picnics, and attending sporting events.

Most families frequently engaged their children in activities ranging across these dimensions; however, different patterns were observed across different social groups. Families in low socio-economic position households, living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, or with mothers speaking a language other than English at home, provided fewer learning experiences. This may in part be due to the challenges families living in socially and economically disadvantaged circumstances face in accessing the financial and social resources needed to provide a rich early home learning environment for children.

The study identified a range of associations between children’s early home learning environment at age 2–3 and their Year 3 learning outcomes at age 8-9:

  • The frequency of children’s home activities when they were 2–3 years was related to their reading and numeracy performance in Year 3 – children who engaged in these activities achieved higher NAPLAN reading and numeracy scores (equivalent to being 12 weeks of schooling ahead in reading and six weeks ahead in numeracy).
  • Children whose parents read to them more frequently when they were 2–3 years had higher NAPLAN reading and numeracy scores in Year 3 (equivalent to 20 weeks ahead in reading and 12 weeks ahead in numeracy).
  • Having more than 30 children’s books at home at the age of 2–3 years was related to higher NAPLAN scores in reading and numeracy in Year 3 (equivalent to four months of schooling ahead in reading and 14 weeks ahead in numeracy).
  • The frequency of children’s out-of-home activities was associated with differences in NAPLAN reading and numeracy scores at Year 3. Children who had more than two out-of-home activities at 2–3 years of age in the month before the interview achieved higher results (equivalent to 11 weeks of schooling ahead in reading and six weeks ahead in numeracy).

The study also found that a stimulating home learning environment at age 2-3 appeared to be equally beneficial to children’s learning outcomes regardless of the child’s gender, socio-economic position or family type. However, while higher levels of home based activities had a significant affect on children from English-speaking families’ numeracy skills, they did not have the same affect on children from non-English speaking families. Future research is required to clarify this finding.

It may be that a more stimulating home learning environment at 2-3 years improves children’s cognitive outcomes and school-readiness at 4-5 years, which is then associated with better outcomes in year 3. The study examined this, by exploring whether the association between children’s early home learning environment at age 2-3 and learning outcomes in Year 3 were explained by the child’s cognitive development at 4–5 years of age.  The study found:

  • A stimulating home learning environment was associated with better language development and school readiness at 4–5 years which in turn, was associated with better academic performance at Year 3.
  • The early home learning environment has a positive “direct association” on a child’s academic results in Year 3, independent of children’s cognitive development and school readiness measured at 4-5 years.

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Authors

Joanne Commerford

Joanne is a former Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange.

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