Environmental Structure: Contributions of Family Routines and Classroom Organization to the Social and Academic Development of Low-Income Kindergarteners
Type of Degreedissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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Prior research indicates that chaos, marked by high levels of noise, crowding, clutter, and lack of routine, at home and school is negatively associated with child outcomes. Low-income families more often struggle with chaos than do economically advantaged families. This dissertation explored the implications of reduced home and school chaos indexed by family routines and classroom organization, among former Head Start families with children in kindergarten. The first study examined whether family routines (e.g., bedtime routine, family mealtime, etc.) mediate and/or moderate the relationship between income and children’s social and academic outcomes in the fall of kindergarten. Using data from the National Head Start Public School Early Childhood Transition Demonstration Study (NTDS; N = 5,157), analyses revealed that family routines both mediate and moderate the association between income and children’s outcomes but the pattern of findings differs depending on the outcome being examined. More specifically, family routines mediated the association between income and children’s social skills such that low-income children in more advantaged families (i.e., higher monthly incomes) participated in more family routines, which in turn predicted better social skills. In contrast, family routines buffered children from the negative effects of low-income on academic achievement such that among more disadvantaged families (i.e., lower monthly incomes), children with higher levels of family routines exhibited better academic achievement than children from families with fewer routines. Findings suggest that family routines may be a promising tool for low-income families and implications for prevention and intervention are discussed. The second study explored the role of family routines and classroom organization simultaneously in predicting children’s social and academic outcomes at kindergarten. Specifically, accounting for the nesting of children within classrooms, I investigated whether classroom organization predicts low-income children’s social and academic outcomes above and beyond family routines in the spring of kindergarten. In addition, I explored whether classroom organization alone, and classroom organization and family routines together, moderate the relationship between income and children’s outcomes. Again using data from the NTDS (N = 4,325), analyses revealed that classroom organization plays an important role in the development of low-income kindergarten children. More specifically, children in more organized classrooms exhibited better social skills and receptive vocabulary than their peers in less organized classrooms. Further, classroom organization moderated the association between income and parent reported social skills and receptive vocabulary. Finally, there was a trend for moderation by both classroom organization and family routines in the associations between income and parent and teacher reported social skills. These findings were no longer statistically significant when a range of child, family, and classroom characteristics were included in the models. Findings suggest that structure across contexts may be key for successful outcomes during the kindergarten year and should be investigated further. Implications for prevention and intervention both at home and school are discussed.