Engaging Young Children

Lessons from Research about Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care

image of Engaging Young Children

The first years of life lay the foundations for a child’s future development and learning. Many countries have increased their financial support for provision of early childhood education and care (ECEC) over the past years. More recently, the focus of debate has been shifting from expanding access to affordable ECEC to enhancing its quality.  A growing body of research suggests that the magnitude of the benefits for children will depend on the level of quality of early childhood services, with especially strong evidence in the case of disadvantaged children.

In light of budgetary constraints, policy makers require the latest knowledge base of the quality dimensions that are most important for ensuring children's development and early learning. However, current research is often narrow in focus or limited to programme-level or national-level conclusions. This book expands the knowledge base on this topic. It draws lessons from a cross-national literature review and meta-analysis of the relationship between early childhood education and care structure (e.g. child-staff ratios, staff training and qualifications), process quality (i.e. the quality of staff-child interactions and developmental activities), and links to child development and learning.

This report concludes with key insights, as well as avenues for further research. It was co-funded by the European Union.



Key insights and avenues for further research

Process quality, such as the quality of staff-child interactions, is the primary driver of children’s development and learning through early childhood education and care (ECEC). However, it can be challenging to target the quality of such interactions with regulation. Research suggests that, apart from in-service training, changes in structural levers are not directly linked to child development and learning. It also suggests that staff should be well-trained, and enjoy good working conditions, such as favourable child-staff ratios, to be able to promote rich learning and well-being environments for children. Monitoring systems can also inform quality improvements. The report also shows that domains of process quality, such as child-to-child interactions, and domains of child development and learning, are overlooked in research. More and more fine-grained evidence on curriculum and monitoring would provide important insights. Contextual factors also merit further consideration, to examine the mechanisms at play between structure, process and child development. Finally, further studies of ECEC quality for the youngest are necessary to inform research and policy.


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