How important is Pre K.

Research results on the effectiveness of early childhood education: EPPE, REPEY and SPEEL

Martin R. Textor

EPPE - "E.ffective P.rovision of P.reschool E.ducation "- is the first large-scale longitudinal study in Europe on the development of childcare (Sylva et al. 2003, 2004a, b). It was carried out in England between 1997 and 2003 by scientists who cooperated with each other from various universities 2,800 children who were cared for at 141 day nurseries, integrated centers, nursery schools, playgroups, etc., and more than 300 children who grew up at home in early childhood were born between the ages of three and seven (end of the second . School class) tested several times (under the abbreviation EPPE II, these children will continue to be accompanied up to their 11th year of age; this follow-up study, which will run until 2008, is not considered in this article) as well as about the family situation and the (quality of) day-care facilities.

REPEY - "R.esearch in E.ffective P.edagogy in the E.arly Years "- (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002) emerged from the EPPE project. The 14 most effective day-care centers were examined in more detail, i.e. those in which the children had developed best according to the EPPE study 46 particularly successful caregivers and individual children in their groups observed over a longer period of time.

SPEEL - "S.tudy of P.edagogical E.ffectiveness in E.arly L.earning "- (Moyles / Adams / Musgrove 2002), like REPEY, dealt with the effectiveness of early childhood education. To this end, 27 directors of day-care centers and 18 specialists were interviewed and 213 parents were questioned with the help of a questionnaire.

Effects of third-party early childhood care

The EPPE study found that attending a preschool facility had a positive effect on the social and cognitive development of (young) children. Positive effects could still be determined at the end of the 2nd school year, but were then somewhat weaker than at the beginning of the 1st school year. Children who were only cared for at home had poor cognitive performance when they started school, could not concentrate as well, and were less social.

If outside care began before the age of three (and especially before the age of two), more anti-social behaviors were observed in the children than they were examined at the age of three and then again at the age of five. In the first two years of primary school, however, these children were able to demonstrate better intellectual performance as well as more independence, ability to concentrate and sociability.

The daily duration of external care had no effects on child development: a full-day visit to a day-care center had neither advantages nor disadvantages compared to a shorter stay.

The effect size of attending a day-care center was only half as great as the effect size of family factors (educational qualification of parents, occupation, social class, etc.). Nevertheless, the external care influenced the child's development, so that family characteristics had a slightly less pronounced effect on school enrollment than when they started attending a day-care center. In particular, children from socially disadvantaged families benefited from outside care, but were still disadvantaged compared to other children (especially when additional burdens such as migrant status were added). On the other hand, good quality family upbringing had a compensatory effect on children who attended poor day-care centers.

The quality of the family learning environment proved to be particularly important for the cognitive performance and - to a lesser extent - for the social development of the children both during preschool and during the first two years of school: "For example, there was reading aloud and teaching songs and rhyming, painting and drawing with the child, visiting a library, teaching the alphabet and numbers, taking the children with you on visits, and creating regular opportunities to play with friends at home for better intellectual test scores and social / behavioral development (Sylva et al. 2003, p. 5). However, the parents conducted more learning activities with daughters than with sons, which may explain some of the gender differences in child development. The quality of the family learning environment was also correlated only moderate with the shift Parent belonging: "What parents do is more important than what they are" (Sylva et al. 2004b, p. 1).

On the importance of quality differences

The day-care centers examined as part of the EPPE study differed in terms of their quality. Children who attended particularly good day care centers developed better in the cognitive and social areas than the other children - especially if they were cared for here for a long time (measured in months). Even at the end of the second grade, these children achieved even better results in reading and arithmetic in standardized school performance tests. Parenting difficulties were very rare.

In the case of high-quality care, there were generally no behavioral problems, even if these began before the child was three years old (see above), or these were dismantled when the facilities were changed.

Indicators of good external care were, for example, emotionally and interactively intensive teacher-child relationships, higher qualifications of the staff, more knowledge of the specialists about the curriculum and the development of small children as well as a high quality educational offer in areas such as language development, cognitive support, mathematics and literacy .

Better trained specialists made more educational offers and had more frequent conversations in which the children's thinking was stimulated but not dominated. If less qualified colleagues worked with them in the same group, they turned out to be better educators (model learning).

Characteristics of an effective early childhood upbringing and education

In general, the English professionals conducted cognitively oriented interactions with the children more often than conversations related to social behavior (30% of all interactions). The first mentioned were mainly direct teaching ("direct teaching"; more than 45% of all interactions) and only rarely about long-term joint thinking ("shared sustained thinking", more than 5% of all interactions).

According to the REPEY study, daycare centers were more effective in the field of early childhood education and upbringing, if

  • professionals viewed children's cognitive and social development as complementary;
  • the employees made more educational offers, especially in the areas of language, literacy, natural sciences and mathematics, and thereby made higher cognitive demands;
  • a high value was attached to the self-determination and participation of children (in good day-care centers, more than half of all activities were initiated by children);
  • there was a balance between high-quality group offers determined by the professionals and potentially educational free play activities chosen by the children (in the most effective institutions, the children spent around half of the time in free play);
  • the educational offers ("curriculum") were differentiated according to age, i.e. younger children were encouraged more in terms of their personal, social, creative and emotional development and older children more in the areas of language, literacy and mathematics;
  • the professionals treated the children with respect and loving care and responded largely positively to them;
  • the (learning) needs of the children were often systematically recorded and the educational offers selected and adapted accordingly;
  • professionals continuously looked for opportunities to stimulate and guide children's learning;
  • children were encouraged to have new experiences when their efforts were enthusiastically welcomed and when they received feedback relevant to their learning during their activities;
  • the professionals supported children in becoming assertive and in resolving their conflicts in a rational way through conversation;
  • the children were immediately and appropriately reacted to disturbing, distracting or problematic behaviors (i.e. the children were not only told to stop or if they were only distracted) and if - if necessary - a conversation with the respective child was sought afterwards; as well as if
  • The specialists cooperated intensively with the parents, i.e. informed them, for example, about the development and learning success of their children, worked out common educational and upbringing goals with them and determined special learning offers for the respective child with them.

It also had a positive effect when the day-care centers made family-building offers that encouraged parents to participate or codetermination and supported socially disadvantaged parents in improving the family learning environment (see above). The latter was considered to be particularly important because the influence of the family on child development turned out to be greater than the influence of the day-care center: Even if day-care centers were of particularly good quality and very effective in terms of early childhood education, the positive development of the (middle-class) Children are more likely to be traced back to the activities of their parents that encourage learning than to what is offered by the skilled workers.

The importance of long-term thinking together

According to the REPEY study, the cognitive development of toddlers was promoted most intensively when they shared long-term thinking. However, as already mentioned, this type of interaction was very rare. Long-term shared thinking was most common between a single child and a single professional or another child; it was rarely observed in smaller or larger groups. Mostly it occurred in free play, with adult interventions proving to be particularly effective in this context.

Even in the high-quality day-care centers, long-term joint thinking rarely occurred, but was then planned and consciously encouraged by the specialists: "To achieve this, the use of worksheets and / or direct or didactic teaching is not very helpful. The role play ... offers a particularly useful context for such interactions "(Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002, p. 44), but also the free game (see above) - provided that the specialists participate in the respective (role) play and through open play Questions stimulated the children's thought processes and imagination. Many interactions that led to long-term joint thinking were also initiated by the children.

According to the REPEY study, joint long-term thinking presupposes that the professional and the child agree on the purpose of the respective activity. This is only possible if the former knows the child's level of development, understands its cognitive, cultural and social perspective and has grasped what it knows and what it understands about the respective topic. Then the professional can "build a bridge" between what the child knows and what he is able to know. This means that it must intervene in the "zone of the next development" in the sense of Vygotsky (Textor 2000).

Only if the professional and child understand each other during the interaction and both sides are committed can they co-construct knowledge in a more or less long process of mutual reflection. The professional has to make sure that the learning content is relevant for the further development of the child. In this context, skills or competencies are often co-constructed, with the specialist structuring the process ("scaffolding") and making use of model learning. According to the REPEY study, children also acquire metacognitive knowledge during long-term thinking together; they think about their own thinking and learn to control it.

On the part of the authors of the REPEY study, it is demanded that far more value should be placed on common long-term thinking in day-care centers. The professionals should interact more intensively with individual children, enrich their activities with appropriate feedback and stimulate thought processes primarily through open questions. Even in the examined, particularly effective day care centers, these accounted for only 5.1% of all questions. Early childhood education could be intensified through more common long-term thinking.

Effective educational practice - a complex occurrence

The characteristics of successful early childhood education identified in the REPEY project were also mentioned by the people interviewed in the SPEEL study. There were also many other factors that could occur in very different combinations. A total of 129 characteristics were identified in the SPEEL study, which could be systematized as follows: (1) Practice: interactions, context, planning, observing and evaluating; (2) Principles: children's rights, characteristics of good teaching and learning practices, role of the professional; (3) Professional: expertise, attitudes and characteristics of the staff.

Some examples: An effective early childhood education is characterized by having skilled workers

  • Enabling children to pursue their own ideas, interests and tasks in free play and other self-determined activities, using all their senses and learning actively, independently and in an action-oriented manner;
  • Seek to understand children's thought processes and intuitive theories and support them in their endeavors and activities;
  • play with the children, thereby directing and expanding their learning processes;
  • Furnish or regularly redesign the indoor and outdoor spaces in such a way that the children will always find new materials, objects and devices that stimulate learning experiences;
  • make educational offers and endeavor to win the children over to interested and committed participation;
  • encourage children to work together in small groups so that they can develop communicative and social skills, develop an understanding of different perspectives and learn from one another;
  • know the children well and encourage them individually;
  • Communicate at the children's level, listen carefully and show appreciation for what they say;
  • Create a positive learning atmosphere, give feedback, appreciate learning successes and convey to the children that their activities are meaningful, as well
  • let the children evaluate their learning themselves.

According to the SPEEL study, effective practice is characterized by the fact that all educational areas are adequately taken into account over the course of time, the children are supported on all sides and individual, small group and overall group activities are balanced in such a way that the special learning opportunities inherent in them are used.

Closing word

The referenced studies agree that an effective early childhood education only takes place if the specialists precisely record the children's learning needs and then make appropriate educational offers or use the opportunities that arise to stimulate learning processes: "Research shows that ever The more knowledge the adult has about the child, the better he can support it and the more effective the subsequent learning is; ... The help from the adult is also important to encourage children to learn in an active and participatory way "(Siraj -Blatchford et al. 2002, p. 48).

Such an effective early childhood education only takes place in fewer day-care centers. The (practical) experience gained there should also be taken into account by German educators and used to improve their own pedagogical practice. The opportunities that lie in intensive early childhood education are only used to a small extent ...


Moyles, J. / Adams, S. / Musgrove, A .: SPEEL. Study of Pedagogical Effectiveness in Early Learning. Research Report No. 363. Norwich: Queen's Printer 2002

Siraj-Blatchford, I. / Sylva, K. / Muttock, S. / Gilden, R. / Bell, D .: Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years. Research Report No. 356. Norwich: Queen's Printer 2002

Sylva, K. / Melhuish, E. / Sammons, P. / Siraj-Blatchford, I. / Taggart, B. / Elliott, K .: The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project: Findings from the pre- school period (2003).

Sylva, K. / Melhuish, E. / Sammons, P. / Siraj-Blatchford, I. / Taggart, B. The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project: Findings from the early primary years (2004a).

Sylva, K. / Melhuish, E. / Sammons, P. / Siraj-Blatchford, I. / Taggart, B.The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project: Findings from pre-school to end of key stage 1 (2004b).

Textor, M.R .: Lev Vygotsky - the co-constructive approach (2000).


Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
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