Languages and maths in the day nursery

It’s a good idea to already start developing children’s language and maths learning skills in the day nursery. This way, the children might do better in school later on than they otherwise would have done.

Toddler reading
Photo: TrygFonden's Centre for Child Research

This is the main conclusion of a large, new research project ”Leg og læring i vuggestuen” (Play and learning in the day nursery) by TrygFonden's Centre for Child Research at Aarhus BSS, which has been conducted in collaboration with Rambøll and five Danish municipalities.

The result of the study is that children who participated in the project improved their learning of languages and maths by 30-80 per cent in relation to children outside the project over the course of a project period of 20 weeks.

“It’s quite remarkable, and it shows that it pays off to make targeted efforts already in the day nursery,” says Professor Dorthe Bleses, who is behind the study together with Professor Peter Jensen, TrygFonden's Centre for Child Research, and Manager Hanne Nielsen, Rambøll.

She refers to e.g. recent Danish research, which has shown that children with the weakest language competences are up to a whole year behind the children with the strongest competences when they advance from the day nursery to kindergarten. The difference has grown to more than two years when the children leave kindergarten and start school.

Furthermore, another recent Danish study shows that having a small vocabulary in the early years results in an increased risk of reading disabilities later in life.

“That’s why it’s important that we also focus on the youngest children in the day nursery and work to develop their language and maths competences so that they are better prepared to meet future challenges. The childcare professionals haven’t had these methods before, and that’s why the project can be directly applied to the municipalities’ day care institutions,” says Dorthe Bleses.

The study “Play and learning in the day nursery” is one of the first studies showing the effects of targeted efforts in day care institutions for the younger age groups, both in Denmark and internationally.

The childcare professionals in the participating day nurseries have worked systematically and targeted with specific learning objectives within languages and maths. The children have been involved in extended and engaging talks about issues relevant to children at their age. This took place in connection with games, activities and daily routines such as when changing nappies, having lunch or getting dressed in the cloakroom.

The results of the efforts were then compared to a control group.

“We’ve also determined that the mothers’ educational level and the children’s origin influenced the effect of the efforts. The higher the mother’s educational level, the more the child benefitted with respect to vocabulary, just as children with a non-Western background benefitted less from the efforts than children with a Danish background. That’s why it’s important to follow up on this project by further examining how these children’s competences can be strengthened,” says Dorthe Bleses.