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Published in Print: April 7, 1999, as Early Years


Early Years

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After-School Care: There may be a connection between children's experiences in after-school care and how those children--especially boys--behave and adjust in school, according to a recent study.

An evaluation of 38 programs for school-age children operated by schools, day-care centers, and community centers found a relationship between the experiences children had in those programs and their performance in school.

In conducting the evaluation, Deborah Vandell, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues studied 150 1st graders. The researchers will continue to follow that group of children through their elementary school years as part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research's ongoing study of after-school care.

The researchers also found an association between after-school-program environments and girls' behavior at school, but that relationship was not as strong as that found for boys.

Among boys, those who attended after-school programs in which staff members responded to them positively were reported to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than those who attended programs that had a more hostile environment. In situations where caregivers were more negative, boys were more likely to receive poorer grades in reading and math.

The researchers caution, however, that the study reveals merely a correlation between after-school care and performance in school, not a cause and effect. It's possible that children with more emotional and behavioral problems received fewer positive responses from caregivers, and that those with weaker academic skills received more negative comments.

In the study, the researchers also looked at peer interaction in the programs and how the programs were organized.

As expected, boys who had more negative interactions with peers in after-school care were more likely to have poor social skills in school.

And frequent negative interactions with peers in the programs were associated with problems such as withdrawal, anxiety, and depression in boys and delinquency and aggression in both boys and girls.

But again, Ms. Vandell stressed: "Our research does not ascertain whether children's problematic functioning simply was evidenced in negative peer interactions in the after-school and school contexts or whether the negative interactions with peers after school contributed to children's emotional and behavioral problems."

--Linda Jacobson

Vol. 18, Issue 30, Page 11

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