Turns out home is not only where the heart is but the brain too.
A new study by cognitive neuroscientist Helen Neville from the University of Oregon, Eugene indicates that parental involvement may be a large factor in preschoolers ability to retain attention in the classroom. The study also showed that a brief training program on attention aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds and their families could help boost brain activity and narrow the academic achievement gap between low- and high-income students.
Neville and colleagues recruited 141 3-to 5-year olds enrolled in Oregon’s Head Start program, a preschool program for children whose families live at or below the poverty line, and randomly divided them into three groups. The US ranks below the OECD average in early childhood education.
Over the span of eight weeks the children in one group spent about an hour every week doing activities that required focused attention. Tasks included coloring in the lines to more complex games. One such game, for example, involved the children delivering a small bowl of water to a frog while walking only along a narrow ribbon.
At the same time, the parents and caregivers of the children in the group were given a weekly, two-hour-long class on parenting. Classes included techniques for reducing family stress, developing home routines, and games that boosted their child’s attention. In the second group children were given the same tasks as the first but the parents only received three 90-minute sessions of instruction. In the third group neither children nor parents were given anything special.
At the end of the study the research team applied a slew of assessments (IQ, spatial reasoning tests, behavioral reports and measured brain activity) and found that the children in the first group whose parents received additional attention instruction showed a 50% increase in brain activity compared to the children in the other two groups. Additionally, the children of group one showed about a 7-point IQ increase. There were no such differences shown in the other groups. The implication was that parental involvement was the key to success.
This is one of the first studies to scientifically test the impact of an intervention (the parents involvement). Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania says, “[Such interventions] are of great interest scientifically, because they are about as close as you can get to experimental research on the effects of child poverty on the brain.”