Spending the whole day in nursery 'can turn toddlers antisocial'
TODDLERS who are left in nurseries for seven hours a day are more "antisocial, worried and upset" than others, government research has found.
The disturbing study, which is likely to concern Britain's 4.9 million working mothers, was condemned yesterday as unhelpful by equality campaigners.
An evaluation of a 370 million government scheme to expand childcare found youngsters were more likely to display antisocial behaviour the longer they spent in nurseries.
The research emerged as teachers warned that young babies are being "institutionalised" by the state because ministers are encouraging more mothers to return to work.
Reacting to the research, Alyson Thomson, from the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland, said it would lead mothers to feel even more guilty about returning to work.
She said: "We know from contacts to our helpline how difficult it is [for mothers] to go back to work. This research is an additional pressure ... which makes the situation even harder.
Research for the Department for Education and Skills found spending more than 35 hours a week in nurseries had a mixed impact on children's development.
The study, by academics at Oxford and other leading research centres, said: "Long hours in the nursery [more than 35 hours a week] had both positive and negative effects on children's behaviour.
"They were more confident and sociable, but also more anti-social, worried and upset.
"The age at which children started attending nursery did not significantly affect their behaviour but the more months they had been attending the more likely they were to display antisocial behaviour," it said.
Putting toddlers in mixed-age groups was also both a good and bad influence on their development. Youngsters under three and a half years old were more upset if they were in groups with older children.
"While mixed age rooms may be better for young children's cognitive development, they may not always be beneficial for their emotional adjustment."
The neighbourhood nurseries initiative was set up in 2001 to provide more childcare in some of the poorest parts of the country. Funded with lottery money and government grants, the scheme was designed to help working class parents back into jobs.
Academics analysed profiles for 810 children and their families in 100 nurseries to assess the impact of spending time in childcare on toddlers' development.
The research came as the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference is debating a motion which "regrets that the drive towards full employment in an expanding economy will result in a greater institutionalisation of children".
Cecily Hanlon, a teacher from Leeds specialising in early years, who proposed the motion, said babies could go into full day care at three months old and virtually spend the whole of their childhood there.
"This concerns me very much because of the very long hours young children are spending in institutional group care, rather than with their families.
"Babies are not actually babies very long."
She warned that moves to extend school opening hours from 8am to 6pm, with children in after-school clubs, would make the situation even worse.
But last night, equality campaigners cast doubt on the research, citing other reports which suggest toddlers and young children actually thrive in pre-school education. Research published in 2004 found that children whose parents enrol them in nursery classes do better at primary school than those who stay at home.
Forget the 'experts', parents are best judges of childcare
PLEASE, Mr Blair, have some mercy on parents and stop commissioning reports whose only function is to fill our already guilt-filled souls to overflowing.
Today, we have a study from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) on the effects of childcare. Tomorrow, it will be something else. What is the point, since parents know the results of these studies already: whatever we do to our children, we're damaging them for life.
Childcare is a good example. Keep the little poppets safe at home until they go to school and we're turning them into antisocial misfits. Pack them off to nursery whilst we work and we're turning them into - yes, antisocial misfits again.
As conscientious parents trying to do the best for our families, it's clear that we fail at every turn, and that's before the children have grown up and thrown in their penny's worth. Batted from guilt-ridden pillar to guilt-ridden post, I'm surprised anybody in the 21st century wants to be a parent.
This latest report is also completely contradictory. Long hours in the nursery make children both "more confident and sociable" and also "more antisocial, worried and upset". What are we supposed to make of that? Forgive me, I'm just a parent and obviously know nothing, but could it be that all children are different, or would we need another report to confirm that?
If the DES must publish such stuff, I suppose it would be too much to ask that it was consistent. Yet the report's inconsistency and penchant for self-evident truths dressed to impress - "Long hours in the nursery has both positive and negative effects on children's behaviour" is an excellent example - should give parents confidence.
When making those horrible, sleep-depriving decisions - about work or no work, nursery or child-minder, full-time or part-time, expensive nanny or cheaper girl-with-possibly-dodgy-references, or indeed when confronting any of those dilemmas parents deal with every day - you, and not some government-funded academic, are the best judge. If your child is not adapting well to nursery, you will be the first to notice. And if you have to leave your child longer than you want in a place you are not entirely happy with, something that we all do occasionally, children survive far worse things.
Early childcare, unless it is grossly negligent or cruel, is not the only thing that affects a child's later development. Love, consistency and an early recognition that life ain't perfect are far more important.
If you bin the guilt and bin the report, as a parent you'll not be going far wrong.
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