Flashback: Mums and Their Tykes Learning Together

Flashback: Mums and Their Tykes Learning Together [1]

Brian D. Ray

National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, USA

Roughly 30 years ago, I was looking for any research related to parent-led home-based education. Very few studies, back then, had directly addressed what we now call homeschooling. But one research project leapt off  the pages at me, and I have referenced  it many times since.

Studies by Barbara Tizard and her colleagues (Hughes,  Carmichael, Pinkerton,  & Tizard, 1978; Tizard, & Hughes, 1984); Tizard, Hughes, Carmichael, & Pinkerton, 1983a; Tizard, Hughes, Carmichael, & Pinkerton, 1983b; Tizard, Hughes, Pinkerton, & Carmichael, 1982) are some of the first research I ever included in my reviews of research on home-centered learning, or home-based education, or homeschooling. Many people think that children, especially those of the “lower class,” will only be improved or properly “brought up” if specialized, professional, university-taught, state-certified, or state-licensed experts teach these children. This thinking, whether implied or explicit, is widespread in the United States and elsewhere. Tizard and her colleagues found, however, in their study entitled “Language and social class: Is verbal deprivation a myth?,” the following:

Despite the widespread belief, enshrined in the Bullock Report, that working class children benefit from nursery school attendance because of the teacher’s `measured attention to the child’s language needs’, the evidence suggests that they are much more likely to receive this from their mothers. (pp. 540-541)

Startlingly to many, Tizard and Hughes (1984) further reported that working-class (i.e., lower-class) girls were more disadvantaged by being in preschool then were middle-class girls. That is, the working-class children were benefited more by being with their mums (mothers) than in schools run by professionals. Much research on modern-day homeschooling seems to be echoing what Tizard and her colleagues were finding over three decades ago, and contradicts the ever-present thinking of promoters of Head Start and other preschool programs.

What made me recently think of the research by Tizard and her colleagues? First, there seems to be a constant drumbeat in the United States that continues pushing for more preschool for more children. Some promoting this want universal preschool (i.e., for all children). Many want all of it to be tax funded. Second, regardless of the means by which preschool might be funded, I have wondered, Does research actually convincingly show that preschool will benefit the child and society, long term?

Armor (2014) recently published a review of “… the major evaluations of preschool programs, including both traditional programs such as Head Start and those designated as “high quality”(p. 1). Many educators, the U.S. president, and many in the U.S. congress and senate continually promote more tax dollars being spent on more preschool. Armor decided that any “… program that could cost state and federal taxpayers $50 billion per year warrants a closer look at the evidence on its effectiveness” (p. 1). I agree.

Upon a detailed, methodologically sound, and fair review of the research, Armor concluded the following:

Second, although preschool programs evaluated by the most rigorous research designs show modest but statistically significant improvements during the preschool years, these gains fade as children move into the kindergarten and first grades. The fadeout might be more accurately described as “catch up,” because the cognitive growth that occurs for all children in the early elementary grades is far greater than the gains during the preschool years, so it may be that children who did not have preschool simply caught up with those who did. (p. 12)

Consistent with what researcher Armor (2014) found, I wrote the following in 2013:

The author has been distressed to see that although there is no clear evidence that the myriad ECE [early childhood education] programs, younger compulsory school attendance ages, and older compulsory school ages help children in general in any appreciable and consistent long-lasting way into their youth or adulthood, many uninformed politicians and policymakers, and educators and other businesses with vested interests in ECE programs and expanded compulsory school attendance ages, continue to promote the state expanding compulsory ages and funding ECE programs. (p. 3)

Both Armor (2014) and I might have saved some time had we simply recalled and told others what Tizard and her colleagues discovered just over 30years ago. Armor, the many professional educators, policymakers, and lawmakers who continue to promote young children spending more time with professional educators would also have learned some important things if they had paid attention to researcher Zigler (1987) and his work almost 30 years ago. Zigler examined the then-recent

… movement toward enrolling 4-yr-olds in academic programs. The research base and political forces that guided the direction of the movement are considered remedial intervention programs for economically disadvantaged children, the need for change in decaying school programs, and the urgent need for increased day-care services. It is determined that the research base does not demonstrate that early schooling will be beneficial to middle-class children who constitute the majority of 4-yr-olds. It is suggested that early schooling may be an inappropriate solution to the current crisis in child care for working parents and that children’s development may suffer if limited educational funds are expended on nonfunctional programs.

That is, despite the fact that educators and policymakers were pushing – three decades ago – for more preschool for children under the tutelage of professional teachers and administrators, research did not support this initiative.

If educators and congressmen want to enhance children’s academic, social, and physical-health lives beyond the third grade year and save taxpayers billions of dollars, then they need to do all they can to strengthen the natural family (Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, 2003). This includes mothers and fathers spending plenty of time with their tykes. During this time, parents would read aloud many rich, authentic, good books to their children, children and parents would have many conversations, parents and children would play together, and  they would engage in religious/spiritual practices together. Research consistently shows that much thoughtful parental engagement with their children and large doses of social capital are critical to strong and healthy child development, the benefits of which last into adulthood. Tizard and her colleagues (Tizard & Hughes, 1984) found and presented this over thirty years ago and all those who are concerned about children’s long-term benefit should eagerly remember it today.

Keywords: Homeschooling, moms, children, learning


Armor, David J. (2014, October 15). The evidence on universal preschool: Are benefits worth the cost? Policy Analysis, no. 760. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. (2003). The natural family. Retrieved March 21, 2003 online http://www. profam.org/thc/thc_tnf.htm.

Hughes, Martin; Carmichael, Helen; Pinkerton, Gill; & Tizard, Barbara. (1978). Recording children’s conversations at home and at nursery school: A technique and some methodological considerations. Child Psychological Psychiatrist, 20, pp. 225-232.

Ray, Brian D. (2013, March 13). Is there any solid evidence for expanding compulsory school age? Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute.

Tizard, Barbara, & Hughes, Martin. (1984). Young children learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tizard, Barbara; Hughes, Martin; Carmichael, Helen; & Pinkerton, Gill. (1983a). Children’s questions and adults’ answers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24(2), 269-281.

Tizard, Barbara; Hughes, Martin; Carmichael, Helen; & Pinkerton, Gill. (1983b). Language and social class: Is verbal deprivation a myth?  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24(4), 533-542.

Tizard, Barbara; Hughes, Martin; Pinkerton, Gill; & Carmichael, Helen. (1982). Adults’ cognitive demands at home and at nursery school. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 23(2), 105-116.

Zigler, Edward F. (1987, March). Formal schooling for four-year-olds? No. American Psychologist, 42(3),254-260.


  1. The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review.