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Children who are too busy perform poorly at school

January 27, 2012

WELL-INTENTIONED parents can keep their children so busy on organised activities it damages their school performance.

It means the ‘hurried child’ can end up with the lowest scores for reading and maths, according to a report on how recreation can influence educational achievement.

It is the latest research from the ongoing ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ survey of nine-year-olds, by the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College.

But the old adage of education beginning at home is also proved.

The government-funded study places 8,500 children into five distinct groups based on how they spend their time when not in school — and other factors such as social class and where they live.

The children sat tests in reading and maths from the Educational Research Centre, Drumcondra, Dublin, and some wide variations in performance were thrown up.

The study found higher scores were achieved by kids active in cultural activities, such as music and drama, and living in areas where it is safe to play outside.

Poor scores were found among those who mainly engaged in unstructured activities, such as vegging out in front of the TV, and those who do not use — or have access to — computers and other such technology.

Children using technology in school are more likely to use it outside, but the report highlights a significant divide. Kids with greater access to computers included those in private schools, designated disadvantaged schools, Gaeltacht schools and urban areas.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said yesterday literacy begins at home and parents and grandparents have a role to play.

“The classroom cannot solve everything,” he said.

Mr Quinn said television had become an “electronic baby-minder” and active involvement by parents was required.

The biggest group in the study, 25pc, are very involved in cultural activities, such as club participation and reading. These, along with what are described as the social networkers (18pc), have the highest scores in reading and maths.

Social networkers are distinguished by their frequent use of computers, especially for keeping in touch with friends, while also being involved in cultural activities and sports. Children from more advantaged families are most likely to fall into these categories.

Next on the performance ladder are the 20pc who play sports and computer games more than others, and spend less time on other activities.

Those with the lowest scores in reading and maths are the 23pc who spend most of their spare time watching television or with friends, and those with ‘busy lives’ who are taking on too much.

While there is a link between involvement in organised activities and better results, the study found that too much cancels out some of the educational benefits.
This was identified in the 15pc with ‘busy lives’, the so-called ‘hurried child’.

Gender differences are highlighted with girls more likely to be involved in cultural activities and to use social media. Boys are more involved in playing sports and computer games.

Urban children are more likely to fall into the social networkers and busy lives groups, and children attending gaelscoileanna are strongly engaged in cultural activities and least likely to fit into the TV/sports group.

One of the report’s authors, Prof Emer Smyth of the ESRI said children from more disadvantaged backgrounds may lose out academically if they didn’t have access to the same kinds of organised activities as their more middle-class peers.

Among the measures called for in the report — carried out in 2007/’08 — are subsidies for children’s recreation, and access to safe play areas within neighbourhoods.