Dressing up and doing number and letter activities at an early age can help poor children “succeed against the odds” at school, research suggests.

An Institute of Education study tracking 3,000 children says early learning activities can give children a three-year academic boost by age 14.

It says differences between rich and poor children emerge by age three.

This persists throughout school for too many children, it adds.

The Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project has been following 3,000 children between the ages of three and 14 since 1996 t try to discover what factors lead to success.

It highlights the lasting benefits of what it calls a “stimulating early years home-learning environment”.

These are defined as being read to, playing with numbers and letters, doing craft activities, but also playing with friends at home and elsewhere, as well as enjoying “make believe” games like dressing up.

It also highlights the benefits of enjoying sports, dance, music and movement – activities more associated with middle-class homes.

The study says that differences in academic attainment and social development related to background emerge in children by the age of three. And these tend to persist to pre-GCSE level.

But it says that a good early years home learning environment serves as a “partial protection against the effects of disadvantage” and can even overcome it.

The study concludes: “Learning opportunities in the home such as reading with children, playing with letters and shapes, sharing nursery rhymes, (and) going to the library all have positive effects later in the secondary phase, in fact, more than parental occupation or income.”

Regular homework

It adds: “If parents focus on their children’s learning when they are very young it raises their attainment at Key Stage 2 on average by a whole national curriculum level, which is equivalent to about three years of school.”

This advantage then persists through the early years of secondary school, it says.

Regular homework – two to three hours per night – also has an impact at this age.

Those who did this were more likely to do well in English, maths and science and to have better behaviour.

The researchers said: “These effects were very strong and made a difference of between one and two national curriculum levels.”

By Hannah Richardson

Source: BBC News – http://goo.gl/9bxvu