General
07 Apr 2014

Activities and Arts help toddlers' development

Parents who take part in interactive and arts-related activities with their two and three year old children help to promote their happiness and development of everyday skills. That is the central finding of research by Professor Paul Anand and Dr Laurence Roope, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2014 annual conference this week.

Analysing data on more than 800 German parents from the German Household Survey 2007-10, the two economists show that:

• Child happiness, as reported by parents, is linked to how frequently children are engaged in activities such as reading, storytelling, shopping, painting and doing arts and crafts.

• Passive activities like looking at picture books or watching television bring no discernible benefits. In fact, watching television sometimes appears to have a negative impact on child happiness.

• More active activities can boost the development of a child’s motor and social skills. For example, painting or engaging in arts and crafts, can promote the development of movement skills.

• Reading, telling stories and singing have a great impact on talking ability. Singing is also associated with the development of social skills. More passive activities do not contribute to the development of any of these skills.

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 finds that child happiness, as reported by parents, is linked to how frequently the children are 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, bring no discernible benefits. In one model, watching television in fact appeared in this analysis to have a negative impact on child happiness.

Moreover, the study finds evidence that more active activities can boost the development of a child’s motor and social skills. For example, painting or engaging in arts and crafts, can promote the development of movement skills. Reading, telling stories and singing have a statistically significant impact on talking ability.

Singing is also associated with the development of social skills. More passive activities did not contribute to the development of any of these skills.

Co-author Paul Anand, Professor of Economics at the Open University, says: "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 could, for example, 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, adds: "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 researchers suggest that their results also lend support to recent concerns about the likely detrimental long-term impact of closing children’s centres: "For some of the most disadvantaged children, centres such as these may provide the best available opportunity for engaging in developmental activities. They can also be an invaluable training resource for parents."

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

ENDS

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