The study examines the impacts of North Carolina early childhood education programs - ABC and CARE. Both programs, launched in the 1970s, started serving children at 8 weeks of age and extended to 5 years of age in the first phase of the intervention.
Both ABC and CARE, launched in the 1970s, started serving children at 8 weeks of age and extended to 5 years of age in the first phase of the intervention. (The second phase of each program, consisting of home visits and support after the age of 5, is not examined in this study.) During the intervention phase examined, children attended the centers from 7:45 am to 5:30 pm, 5 days per week and 50 weeks per year. The programs targeted disadvantaged, predominantly African-American children in the Chapel Hill/Durham area with the goal of enhancing early life skills. The programs provided individualized intervention, recording progress, and adjusting learning activities every 2-3 weeks. Both programs supported language, motor, and cognitive development, as well as socio-emotional competencies.
All classroom staff participated in extensive training and were closely observed by FPGC’s academic staff, as part of a broad variety of ongoing clinical and social research related to early childhood education, psychology, and health. In ABC, child-caregiver ratios varied by age: 3:1 for infants up to 13 to 15 months of age; 4:1 for toddlers up to 36 months; and 5:1 or 6:1 for children aged 3 to 5 years, depending on cohort size. Child-caregiver ratios were similar in CARE.
Preschool rooms featured intentionally organized environments to promote pre-literacy and access to a rich set of learning tools. The full-day curriculum emphasized active learning experiences, dramatic play, and pre-academics. Frequent 1:1 or 2:1 child-adult interactions prioritized language development for social competence. For ages 3 through 5, as the cohorts approached public school entry, classroom experiences were increasingly structured towards the development of pre-academic skills and “socio-linguistic and communicative competence.” FPGC offered a summer program before the start of kindergarten designed to target specific skills to ensure success in a kindergarten classroom (e.g., lining up when exiting the classroom). This program was available to subjects in both the center-based childcare and family education group and the family education group. ABC’s and CARE’s learning programs were influenced by key developmental theorists. All four ABC cohorts and two CARE cohorts participated in curriculum developers Sparling and Lewis’ “LearningGames for the First Three Years.” The “LearningGames” approach was implemented daily by infant and toddler caregivers in 1:1 child-adult interactions. Each “LearningGames” activity has a developmentally-appropriate objective, the necessary materials, directions for teacher behavior, and expected child outcome. The activities were designed for use both indoors and outdoors, while dressing, eating, bathing, or during play.
ABC and CARE provided comprehensive on-site medical care because it was conducted in conjunction with a longitudinal medical research study on infectious respiratory diseases in group environments. Intervention group children were monitored daily for signs of illness. All treated children received medical care while attending center-based childcare.
Most students in the comparison group enrolled in alternative center-based care and alternative regulated, federally-subsidized preschool. In ABC, the families of 75% of the comparison-group subjects enrolled their children in alternative center-based childcare. In CARE, 74% of families in the comparison group and enrolled their children in alternative center-based childcare.
Support for implementation
All classroom staff participated in extensive training and were closely observed by FPGC’s academic staff, as part of a broad variety of ongoing clinical and social research related to early childhood education, psychology, and health. All classroom staff were supervised daily, received weekly mentoring, and professional development from outside consultants.