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V.1 #4 Early Intervention - The Effects of Early Child Care: Lessons from the NICHD Study of Early C

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has reported on an important study that compared the short- and long-term developmental effects of different types of childcare. The study, called the NICHD Study of Early Child Care (NICHD SECC,, began in 1991 when it enrolled 1,364 newborns and their families from sites across the country.

Since 1991, the researchers measured different aspects of the children’s development (e.g., social, behavioral, academic, health) until they reached age 15. The information the researchers collected allowed them to answer critical questions about the effects of the different childcare programs on children’s short- and long-term development.1

One of the study’s overarching finding is that the quality of care, but not necessarily the amount of care, strongly relates to children’s long-term development. Below are more specific findings.

  • Although children’s parenting is a stronger predictor of their development than their early child care, children attending higher-quality care have higher vocabulary scores than children attending lower-quality care (Belsky, Vandell, Burchinal, Clarke-Stewart, McCartney, Owen, & The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2007).

  • Higher-quality care is linked to higher scores in math, reading and memory.

  • Important indicators of quality include high levels of emotional support for children (e.g., creating a positive learning climate, being sensitive to their academic and emotional needs), good classroom organization (e.g., monitoring, redirecting, and preventing behavior problems, maximizing time available for learning), high levels of instructional support (e.g., promoting higher order thinking skills, promoting language development) (Pianta, LaParo, & Hamre, 2006)

In sum, these research-based findings confirm the important role that early childhood educators play in shaping children’s development.


Belsky, J., Vandell, D.L., Burchinal, M., Clarke-Stewart, K.A., McCartney, K., Owen, M.T., & The NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2007). Are there long-term effects of early child care? Child Development, 78, 681-701.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2005). Early child care and children’s development in the primary grades: Follow-up results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. American Educational Research Journal, 42, 537-570.

Pianta, R.C., LaParo, K.M., Hamre, B.K. (2006). Classroom Assessment Scoring System Manual—PreK Version. University of Virginia Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

1The NICHD SECC website lists nearly 200 publications along these lines that may be of interest to early childhood educators.

Khara Pence Turnbull, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist in Washington, DC. She is editor of Assessment in Emergent Literacy (Plural Publishing) and author of Language Development from Theory to Practice (Merrill/Prentice Hall).

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