Summary of Research on School Based Child Development Education

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Feb 6, 2013 No Comments ›› admin

School Outcomes are related to parenting practices

Research over the past three decades documents that achievement test scores and student’s attitudes and behavior are highly impacted by the quality of prenatal and early childhood care, parents’ level of  involvement in a child’s education, and whether a child has experienced some form of child abuse (Margolies & Burack-Lynch, 2003; NWREL, 2009; Pozmantier, 2009).

Yet education on topics related to the basics of human development and nurturing has been only marginally included in school curriculums. In Connecticut , Margolies, et. al. (2001, 2006) found that about 8% of high school students received some direct form of child development education in their curriculum across 169 Connecticut School districts. Boys were less likely to enroll in elective “parenting” courses. Despite the paucity of current educational offerings, over ninety percent of 471 Connecticut teachers surveyed across urban and rural districts supported increasing school-based prevention programming aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect and toward improved parenting.

School is the best place to teach about child development

Direct instruction in school to children (as future parents) through curriculum on concepts of child development, child safety, and parent nurturing, is essential for positive change in future parenting skills,  parent involvement with their child’s education, the prevention of child abuse, neglect, and  violence, and related improvements in school outcomes.

Parents are not being educated in the current system. Research demonstrates that less than 10% of adults participate in formal parent education activities as adults. School-based child development education embedded in middle and high school programming can afford the opportunity to expose children of both sexes to a base of knowledge about child development, care, and parenting responsibilities with long term exposure to the curriculum. In addition, after receiving education as children we would predict that the rate of adults parenting education involvement will increase, as this will become a more routinely structured and valued activity for parents.

School based training would provide for repeated exposure to skills, over time and developmental level, with potential for family and community involvement. There is a strong relationship between the comprehensiveness, length, and breadth of programs and positive outcomes (Cox, 1997, Daro, 1996; Finkelhor, 1998), and the failure of programs without multi-level, multi-factor, and multi-system components (Cox, 1998; Ellis, 1998).  Curriculum effectiveness also requires a behavioral rehearsal component, a solid theoretical base, and full program implementation. All of these components can be woven into the structure available in a school based curriculum.

Experimental and longitudinal research results

Research with sound theoretical underpinnings demonstrates that knowledge of child development relates directly to positive parenting and child safety. Perhaps the most advanced theoretical base to guide insight into curriculum needs related directly to parenting skills has been developed by Bavoleck, in  a series of pre- and post test skill training studies on thousands of trainees.  Through item and factor analyses of the Adult-Adolescent Parenting Index (AAPI), Bavoleck has identified five separate skill areas, which independently predict parents abusive behavior based on pre-parent and parent attitudes. The factors are; level of parental expectation, empathic awareness of children’s needs, refraining from corporal punishment, reversed parent-child roles, and promoting empowerment vs. blind obedience. As an example of support of Bavoleck’s factors, high parental expectations and corporal punishment are known to be related to abusive outcomes, and empathy has been shown to be critical to parenting. (Kolko, 1996).

Child development and parenting skills derived from Bavoleck’s field tested and theoretically driven programs have been shown to be teachable, learned easily, and to result in marked attitude and knowledge change for teenage and adult trainees (Bavoleck, 1999).


Further longitudinal evidence to encourage greater use of child development centered pre-parenting programs is found in the results of high quality outcome research on in-vivo parent training. Long term positive effects of an intensive home visit parent training protocol have been reported by Olds and associates (Kitzman, et. al., 1997; Olds, et. al., 1997; Olds, et. al., 1998). This training has been found to have notable effects on reducing repeated child bearing, child abuse and neglect, and on the offspring’s later criminal and antisocial behavior fifteen years  after the intervention.  Britner and Repucci (1997) demonstrated excellent effect sizes in attitude change, reduced subsequent pregnancy, higher educational attainment, and reduced child abuse reports due to a twelve week parenting education course for young teen mothers. These conclusions are also supported in a series of literature reviews by Macmillan, et. al. (1999). This body of research suggests that direct modeling and exposure of youth to baby and toddler care experiences, a key component of child development education, will also yield long term, positive results, especially if combined with pre and post natal educational programs for parents to be.

Research based child development programs available to our schools

The Parenting Project (now called Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents) (2002 – 2010), provides  a summary of outcome studies on parenting programs for children and teens. “Baby Think It Over” is a parenting simulation that uses a computerized infant simulator. Research indicates it has been shown effective in deferring adolescent’s decisions to become parents, decreased pregnancy compared to controls,  with student’s gaining knowledge of parenting complexities. “Dad’s Make a Difference” focuses on educating youth about the importance of fathers in children’s lives. Participants showed increased knowledge and attitude in appropriate direction maintained over time, feelings of usefulness of program information and sharing of knowledge with others not exposed to the program. “Educating Children for Parenting” focuses on knowledge of early child development and nurturing and caring skills through instruction and community based parent/child visiting. Positive effects of learning, knowledge and understanding of child development, and ability to generate solutions to child rearing problems have been demonstrated. “Education for Parenting” teaches youth caring skills through child development curriculum and direct exposure to parents and infants during training. Outcome results indicate more accurate observation ability, improved identification of age-appropriate behavior, increased valuing of the role of parents, and increased knowledge of physical and social child development concepts.

“Parents Under Construction” is a comprehensive k-12 curriculum teaching child development, problem-solving, discipline, and communication skills. Results of over sixteen independent outcome studies begun in 1994 have found the program effective in teaching child caring skills, changing attitudes regarding nonviolent discipline techniques, and having positive effect on student empathy in child rearing with specific populations. There is now longitudinal research emerging from the Parents Under Construction Program to demonstrate long-term effectiveness. This ongoing, Houston based program is available to all school districts on request at a very reasonable cost.

Robert Margolies, Ph.D., The Motivation Center, Shelton , CT. 203-929-2093

Co-President, CT Coalition for Child Development Education