Children of stay-home mothers are lonely at school

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The Independent Online

Children who are looked after at home until the age of five suffer in their early school years because they are five times less popular than those who went to nursery school, according to new research.

Children who are looked after at home until the age of five suffer in their early school years because they are five times less popular than those who went to nursery school, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of North London have found that children who spend their early years at home rather than at a nursery school or a playgroup have fewer friends throughout primary school. At the age of 10, the researchers found, they still find making friends is difficult.

The past 10 years have seen an increasing number of children growing up in families where both parents work, anda growth in the different types of care available, ranging from part-time nannies to full-time nursery schools.

The research says that many working mothers feel guilty about not wanting to stay at home to care for their children or not being able to because of financial constraints, but the latest findings show they could be helping their children's social skills by sending them to nursery school. In Britain, nearly half of mothers with children under five work full-time or part-time.

The study, which looked at 187 children aged four to ten from Warwickshire, assessed the popularity of children aged seven to eight, and then aged nine to ten, by asking them to name their three best friends in the class. Those aged four or five were given a picture test. The results were used to assess their popularity. This in turn was compared with their pre-school experiences.

The children were divided into four groups: those who had attended nursery school where they worked to a curriculum but had a large amount of play time; those who had been to playgroups where the children were encouraged to interact and play together; those who had attended nursery where the play time was not structured, and those who had been cared for at home.

The findings revealed that children aged between four and ten who had stayed at home were nearly five times less popular than those who had been to nursery school or playgroup. Children who had been to nursery school were 20 per cent more popular at ten than those who had been to playgroups. The difference between the children who had been to nursery schools and those cared for at home was negligible.

Philip Erwin, a psychologist from the University of London and co-author of the study, said: "The provision of systematic curriculum and guided play characteristics of nursery schools and playgroups appears to provide a foundation for better social development than the more laissez-faire environment of a nursery or the generally fewer opportunities for peer contact in children cared for at home."

Parents should be made more aware that the kind and quality of their children's pre-school child care can have a profound impact on their social and educational skills later in life, he said.

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