Reducing the Achievement Gap

Health care providers can help children prepare for school

(RxWiki News) A new study reveals that during primary care visits health care providers have an outstanding opportunity to help young children prepare for school.

Over the years, many studies have provided information on ways to prepare children to succeed in school. Programs using picture books, educational toys, and videos claim to provide children an upper hand once they arrive in the classroom. However, many children lack access to such tools. As they grow older, these children hear fewer words and are read-to less often than their peers. These at-risk children do not start building education-related skills until after arriving at school.

In order reduce the achievement gap between at-risk children and their better-prepared peers, researchers are searching for early opportunities to prepare children for school. Interventions during primary care visits have been identified as one such potential opportunity.

Led by Alan L. Mendelsohn, M.D., from New York University and School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, a team of researchers examined two interventions that were being conducted during the primary care visits of almost 700 at-risk children. All of the study's participants and their mothers received children's books and reading guidelines from the Reach Out and Read Program.

Once enrolled in the study, mothers and their infants were placed in one of three groups. The first was a control group consisting of standard primary care with no intervention program.

The second group attended standard primary care visits with the addition of the Building Blocks intervention, a program involving monthly child development questionnaires, newsletters, suggested readings, and activities to help improve early literacy and child development.

The third group attended standard primary care visits with the addition of the Video Interaction Project, an intervention program that involves meetings with a child development expert during 15 primary care visits, in addition to providing children with toys and other items to help improve early literacy and child development. The key components of the Video Interaction Project are meetings in which the mother and child development expert review videotaped sessions of the mother playing with her child.

After comparing these three groups, Mendelsohn and his team found that by 6 months of age, infants in the Video Interaction Project had substantially higher scores on tests that assessed parent-child interaction and engagement in pre-literacy activities than infants in the control group.

Although infants from the Building Blocks group also scored better than those in the control group, they did not achieve the high success of those in the Video Interaction Project.

According to James A. Griffin, Ph.D., leader of the NICHD's Early Learning and School Readiness Program, the improved success of children in these intervention programs shows that interventions during primary care visits can improve interactions between parents and their infants, especially the amount of time they spend together engaging in pre-literacy activities.

Dr. Mendelsohn and his colleagues plan to carry on following these infants through the first grade in order to see if these interventions continue to have a positive affect on school readiness into the future.

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, is published in the January 2011 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Review Date: 
February 8, 2011