03 Jul 2013

Activities and arts could help young children’s development

New research by The Open University and Oxford University suggests that parents taking part in interactive and arts related activities with their two and three year olds could help promote their happiness and development of everyday skills.

The study, An Economic Analysis of Child Development and Happiness, found that child happiness, as reported by their parents, was linked to how frequently the children were engaged in activities such as reading, storytelling, shopping, painting and doing arts and crafts. In contrast, passive activities like looking at picture books or watching television, brought no discernible benefits. Watching television in fact, appeared in this analysis to have a negative impact on child happiness that was statistically significant.

Results suggested that more active activities may boost the development of a child’s motor and social skills. For example, painting or engaging in arts and crafts, could promote the development of movement skills, while reading, telling stories and singing have a significant impact on both talking ability and social skills. More passive activities did not contribute to the development of these skills.

Commenting on the findings Paul Anand, Professor of Economics at The Open University, said:
“We applied standard economic tools to analyse children’s wellbeing and development at a very early age. An economic study of very young children is relatively novel, but if our findings are replicated in other research, they could have significant implications for parenting education. It should allow us to reassess the role of arts in the development of skills and human potential.”

Dr Laurence Roope, Researcher at the Health Economics Research Centre, Oxford University, said:
“Our results suggest that parents may face difficult trade-offs with regard to time spent actively engaging with their children, versus providing for them materially via the labour market. Of course parents can’t engage their young children in these activities every hour of the day, but it is encouraging that time spent reading books to them, painting or joining in with a nursery rhyme, could help their development. It will be interesting to see whether similar results emerge for slightly older children and using other datasets.”

The study applied economic models to data drawn from the German Household Survey in the years 2007 to 2010. The data included responses from over 800 German parents about the happiness and wellbeing of their two and three year olds, the activities they took part in, and their development of talking, movement, and social skills.

The findings were presented at a conference on the economics of wellbeing at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-Universities conference in Paris on 3 July.

The study received funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

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