Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Interactive Effects of Parental Cognitive Stimulation and Early Care and Education Experiences for Children of Immigrants

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 2:10 PM
Miami Lecture Hall (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Christina Padilla, Georgetown University
Over the past four decades, the number of immigrants in the United States has been steadily increasing, and by 2012, one in four newborn children had at least one immigrant parent. Children of immigrants thus comprise a large percentage of school-aged children. On average, children of immigrants score lower than non-immigrant children on cognitive indicators of their readiness to enter formal schooling, even when comparisons are made across children of similar socioeconomic status.

Two key determinants of children’s school readiness are the type of early care and education (ECE) the child experiences prior to entering kindergarten, as well as the quality and quantity of parenting received. Research has shown that, among immigrants, center-based care attendance, as well as greater levels of parental involvement, predicts higher scores on cognitive assessments prior to entering kindergarten. While there is some evidence to suggest that the benefit children receive from ECE programs varies by the quality of the home environment among non-immigrant families, other studies have not found evidence of such moderation. Furthermore, none of these studies have examined this possible moderating effect in an immigrant sample.

Using nationally representative data on young children entering kindergarten in 1998 from the Early Child Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), the current study examines the relationship between children’s early education experiences, as well as immigrant parents’ provision of cognitive stimulation for their young children, and those children’s cognitive and socioemotional school readiness outcomes. Measures of school readiness include reading and math scores from the fall of kindergarten and teacher-reported approaches to learning.

I measure this relationship among multiple immigrant groups using a rich set of language, child, and family characteristics as controls. I find that both parental provision of cognitive stimulation (B=0.89, SE=0.43, p<0.05) as well as attending center-based care prior to entering kindergarten (B=1.87, SE=0.64, p<0.01) significantly predict children’s early math scores. When cognitive stimulation is interacted with center-based care attendance, however, both of these main effects are eliminated and a positive interaction between the two emerges (B=1.80, SE=0.91, p<0.01). These results suggest that children of immigrants who attend center-based care benefit more from increased parental cognitive stimulation in terms of math scores than children who do not, and that in fact center-based case may have little impact when parental provision of cognitive stimulation is low. A similar interaction emerged for approaches to learning scores, though results were only marginally significant. Although center-based care attendance significantly predicted children of immigrants’ early reading scores (B=3.61, SE=0.91, p<0.01), neither parental cognitive stimulation nor the interaction between the two were significant.

These results suggest that the current focus on broadening access to ECE, such as through universal pre-k initiatives, may be necessary but not sufficient in terms of improving immigrant children’s early math outcomes. This is because, without increased attention to parents’ provision of cognitive stimulation, children may not benefit as fully from such initiatives. Interventions aimed at promoting school readiness might therefore consider targeting both school and home environments.