Publication - Research and analysis

Growing up in Scotland: the impact of children's early activities on cognitive development

Published: 18 Mar 2009
Directorate:
Children and Families Directorate
Part of:
Children and families, Education
ISBN:
9780755919680

This report uses data from the first three waves of the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) to explore children’s cognitive ability.

92 page PDF

1.8 MB

92 page PDF

1.8 MB

Contents
Growing up in Scotland: the impact of children's early activities on cognitive development
Chapter 3 Children's Activities

92 page PDF

1.8 MB

Chapter 3 Children's Activities

3.1 Key findings

  • At 10 months of age most children experienced the following on a daily basis: playing indoor or outdoor games (94%), singing or having rhymes recited to them (90%), looking at books or being read stories (66%). Only a minority of children (25%) had visited a library by the age of 10 months.
  • Children living in the most deprived 15% of areas were less likely to have been read to on a daily basis at 10 months of age than children in the rest of Scotland (54% versus 69%). Similar patterns were evident between children whose families had the lowest and highest incomes (55% and 78% respectively), and between children whose mothers had no qualifications and those whose mothers had degrees (51% and 78% respectively).
  • By the age of 22 months 79% of children looked at books or read stories every day, 58% recited rhymes or sang songs, 52% ran around or played outdoors, 28% did activities like painting or drawing and 30% played at recognising letters, words, numbers or shapes.
  • Children were classified according to how many activities they had carried out per day at age 22 months. Children from less advantaged households were the least likely to be classified as being in the most active group of children and were the most likely to be in the least active group.
  • The survey also measured how many events or places children had been to in the past year when they were aged 22 months. The activities ranged in popularity from just 5% having been to the cinema and 17% to a sporting event to 73% who had been to a zoo, farm or aquarium and 83% who had been to a swimming pool. Children had been to an average of three of the eight events/places asked about while only 4% had never been to any.
  • The children most likely to have been to none or just one of the events or places asked about were those: in the most deprived 15% of areas, in the lowest income households, in families with no parent working full-time, with mothers aged under 20 at time of their birth, whose mothers have few or no qualifications.
  • Parents were asked how important they thought it was for their children to experience various activities when their child was aged 22 months. The activities most likely to be rated as very important were: running around or playing outside (84%); educational activities such as reading, drawing or painting (82%); social activities such as visiting friends or having visitors (74%); exercise such as swimming, dancing or gymnastics (64%). Two activities were not rated as strongly: cultural activities such as museum visits (18%) and watching TV (6%).
  • All the activities, except for watching TV, were used to create a scale measuring how many activities in total parents rated as very important. The average number rated as very important was just over three, just 5% rated none of them as very important and 14% said all five were. Two-parent families with neither parent working full-time were the most likely to say that one or none of the activities were important, followed by families in the lowest income households and mothers with no qualifications.
  • Over half of parents were very happy (19%) or quite happy (37%) with the range of activities available to their child when aged 22 months. In contrast, 28% would have liked their child to have a slightly wider range and 16% wanted a much wider range of activities. Demand for a much wider range of activities was greatest among the most disadvantaged groups: in the 15% most deprived of areas, with the lowest household incomes, in families where no adult works more than 16 hours a week, mothers aged under 20 when their child was born, and mothers with few or no qualifications.

3.2 Introduction

This section provides an overview of the kinds of activities that children had experienced at age 10 and 22 months and introduces the measures that are used in the next section to explore the impact of activities on cognitive ability at 34 months. The ways in which activities vary across different family types and by other socio-demographic factors are also presented here to help provide a fuller picture of this aspect of children's lives.

3.3 Defining activities

This report measures three aspects of children's activities:

  • activities that children experience,
  • the importance parents attach to certain activities, and
  • parents' satisfaction with the range of their children's activities.

These measures cannot, of course, capture every aspect of a child's early experiences and their parents' views about them. However, by broadening the focus to include aspects such as the importance parents attach to activities as well as their overall satisfaction with them, the picture painted is somewhat broader than an analysis based only on children's direct experiences would provide.

Surveys such as GUS have many strengths and can provide detailed insights into children's lives, but there are practical limitations on what can be collected within a survey. For example, some studies have also attempted to capture information about parenting styles by including experimental scenarios in which researchers observe parents and children interacting to assess the quality of their engagement directly (Lugo-Gill and Tamis-LeMonda, 2008). These techniques are very common in psychological studies of child development that often have a single purpose and where samples are generally small. In contrast, GUS is designed to cover a wide range of topics and interests, generally via standardised interviews and measures, so although employing these kinds of direct observations of parenting approaches would be desirable, they are not practical. Its large sample size would also make the administration of more sophisticated observational measures such as these impractical. For these reasons the analysis in this report is framed around children's activities rather than the broader issue of parenting 'quality', 'approach' or 'style'.

It is also worth noting that GUS collects parental reports of their children's activities which may themselves be subject to error. Parents may be unaware of the full extent of activities that their children experience, especially if they spend some of their time in the care of others, which could lead to under-reporting. Conversely, parents might be mistaken and recall activities that their child hasn't actually done (for example by mistaking them for a sibling or misremembering the time frame within which activities have taken place). However, despite these concerns the following sections demonstrate that it is undoubtedly possible to provide an overview of the extent and variety of children's recent experiences of growing up in Scotland, even if they do not represent the full entirety of that experience.

3.4 Activities at age 10 months

The range of children's activities asked about at sweep 1 of the study, when the children were aged 10 months, was less extensive than has been the case in subsequent sweeps. This is partly due to time pressures and the range of information it was necessary to include at the very first interview but it also reflects the less active nature of children at this young age. Table 3.1 presents a range of activities from sweep 1 and the frequency with which parents reported doing them with their child at that point. The questions used the following format:

How often do you (or your partner) look at books with (child) or read stories with (him/her)?

The first point to note from the table is the high proportions who reported playing games and reciting rhymes or singing songs with their child on a daily basis (over nine in ten in both cases). A lower proportion, two-thirds (66%), reported looking at books or reading stories on a daily basis, though only a very small minority (6%) never did this. In contrast, the majority of parents (75%) had never taken their child to the library by the time they were 10 months old. As such high proportions reported doing the first two activities, their ability to explain variations in children's cognitive ability at 34 months will be very limited. However, the two book based activities will be of more interest for two reasons. Firstly, their frequency is much lower overall so this degree of variation may be related to child outcomes. Secondly, one of the cognitive tests measures vocabulary and it can be hypothesised that early exposure to books might well confer an advantage on children when it comes to their vocabulary development. For these reasons these two indicators are worthy of further exploration.

Table 3.1 Frequency of children's activities at age 10 months

Frequency of activity

Activity

Play indoor or outdoor games

Recite nursery rhymes or sing songs

Look at books or read stories

Take child to the library

%

%

%

%

Every day

94

90

66

*

Once or twice a week

5

7

21

4

Once every 1 or 2 months or less

1

1

7

20

Never

1

1

6

75

Bases

Weighted

5215

5215

5216

5214

Unweighted

5215

5215

5216

5214

3.4.1 Reading books and library visits by socio-demographic factors

As Table 3.1 illustrates, reading with children on a daily basis and taking them to a library were by no means universal parenting activities. Table 3.2 presents the proportion of parents who did both these activities and shows how this varied according to a range of socio-demographic factors that were selected to cover a range of possible determinants of children's activities. They include individual level measures relating to the mother's age when the child was born and her education level, as well as some household level measures (income and employment/family type), and a measure of the level of the deprivation in the area where the family lived.

The data for the two activity types is presented in the columns and the socio-demographic factors are presented in the rows so the table should be read from top to bottom. For example, the first column shows that just over half (54%) of parents who live in the 15% most deprived of areas in Scotland read with their child on a daily basis when they were 10 months olds compared with seven in ten (69%) of parents in the rest of Scotland. Similarly sized differentials can be seen for all the other factors, with income and education showing the largest gaps between the highest and lowest incomes (78% and 55%), and between those with degrees and those with no qualifications (78% and 51%), respectively.

Table 3.2 Daily reading and library visits at age 10 months by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, equivalised household income, family and employment type, age of mother at birth and mother's educational attainment

Socio-demographic factors

Activity

Look at books /stories with child every day

Has ever taken child to the library

Bases Weighted

Bases Unweighted

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

15% most deprived areas

%

54

19

762/761

685/684

Rest of Scotland

%

69

27

3722/3721

3827/3826

Equivalised household income quintile

Up to £8,409

%

55

15

1003

932

£8,410-13,749

%

60

23

972

956

£13,750-21,784

%

68

27

847/846

859/858

£21,785-33,570

%

72

30

983

1016

£33,571 and above

%

78

32

866/865

919/918

Income unknown

%

62

21

546

534

Family and employment type

Lone parent working >16 hours

%

62

15

315

298

Lone parent unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

55

15

742

678

Couple both working >16 hours

%

71

29

2121/2120

2194/2193

Couple one person working >16 hours

%

67

27

1704

1733/1732

Couple both unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

56

16

331

310

Age of mother at birth

Under 20

%

55

13

403/402

349/348

20 to 29

%

65

21

2163

2072

30 to 39

%

69

30

2409/2408

2539/2538

40+

%

72

32

170

182

Mother's highest qualification

Degree

%

78

38

1276/1275

1334/1333

Vocational below degree

%

66

24

1664

1676

Higher grade

%

69

24

379

378

Standard grade

%

55

16

783/782

759/758

No qualifications

%

51

14

367

352

Note: Within each base column the first figure is for the looking at books question, the second is for the library question; if only one figure is presented the base is the same for both questions.

3.5 Activities at age 22 months

As noted above, subsequent GUS sweeps have included more questions about children's activities and parent's views of them. At sweep 2 the questions looked in more detail at the kinds of activities children had done in the previous week as well as some less frequent ones in the course of the previous year.

3.5.1 Daily activities

At sweep 1 parents were asked about activities that they had done with their child. At sweep 2 the focus shifted away from parent-child interactions and instead the questions took the following format:

Can you tell me on how many days in the last week (child) has done each of the following things either on (his/her) own or with someone else? By 'the last week',
I mean the last 7 days.

On how many days in the last week has (child) looked at books or read stories?

For those children who had engaged in an activity, follow-up questions then asked with whom the child had carried out the activity so parental involvement can be ascertained. Although this measure of parental involvement is of general interest, the purpose of this report is to establish what influence activities have on cognitive development so the critical area of interest is simply whether children have experienced activities, rather than in whose company they experienced it. For this reason the following analysis looks at how often children have experienced various activities, regardless of who they were with at the time.

Table 3.3 presents five activities that parents were asked about in descending order of their frequency based on the proportion who said that their child did that activity every day. The main point to note from the table is that all the activities were reportedly done by a majority of children at least once a week while a majority had done the first three activities on a daily basis. Even the least common activity in the table (educational games) had been done on an average of just over three days in the past week.

Table 3.3 Frequency of children's activities in the past week at age 22 months

No. of days in past week

Activity

Looked at books/read storie

Recited nursery rhymes or sung songs alone or with someone

Run around or played outdoors

Done activities involving painting or drawing

Played at recognising letters, words, numbers or shapes

%

%

%

%

%

None

2

13

10

10

32

1 - 3 days

10

16

21

42

25

4 - 6 days

9

13

17

21

13

7 days

79

58

52

28

30

Mean no. of days

6.17

5.00

4.92

3.79

3.27

Standard error of mean

Bases

Weighted

4507

4509

4496

4498

4492

Unweighted

4509

4508

4501

4502

4495

In contrast to the activities at age 10 months shown in Table 3.1 these five activities show greater variation and are therefore more likely to be of use when it comes to examining their influence on cognitive ability at age 34 months. However, some attempt needs to be made to reduce or summarise the range of activities otherwise the analysis is at risk of becoming unwieldy. One way of summarising the data in Table 3.3 is to count up the number of activities that children had done in the past week and calculate a daily average. 2 Of course, this only covers the activities asked about and cannot reflect the full extent of a child's activities across a week. But, as the table suggests, these activities are on the whole very representative of the kinds of things children aged 22 months get up to regularly so as a means of drawing distinctions between children based on their general activity levels this composite measure is very effective. Doing this places children on a continuum ranging from those who had not carried out any of the five activities on any of the days at one end, to those that had done all five activities on all seven days (a maximum of 35 activities in a week, or 5 in a day). This composite measure can then be further divided into four groups of broadly equal size (quartiles) to provide a measure that allows the 25% most and 25% least active children to be compared.

3.5.2 Daily activities by socio-demographic factors

Table 3.4 uses the same range of socio-demographic factors that was used to explore activities at age 10 months to compare children's activity levels at age 22 months. The first column presents the data for the most active 25% children and the second looks at the least active 25% (the two intervening groups have been omitted to keep the table simple). The socio-demographic factors are presented in the rows. This means that the data can be read from left to right, to compare the two activity groups, as well as from top to bottom to compare the different socio-demographic factors. For example, looking at the income figures shows that 16% of children from the lowest income households were classified as being in the most active group whereas almost twice as many, 31%, were classified as being the least active. Comparison can also be drawn within the same activity group, for example the proportion of children from the lowest income households in the most active group (16%) can be compared with the equivalent proportion of children from the highest income households (34%). The key point to note from the table is that children from less advantaged families were the least likely to be among the most active 25% of children and were the most likely to be among the least active 25%. In short, activity levels increase as affluence and advantage increases.

Table 3.4 Daily activity quartiles at age 22 months by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, equivalised household income, family and employment type, age of mother at birth and mother's educational attainment

Socio-demographic factors

Activity level (based on activities per day in past week)

Most active 25% of children

Least active 25% of children

Base Weighted

Bases Unweighted

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

15% most deprived areas

%

20

25

804

667

Rest of Scotland

%

23

21

3641

3781

Equivalised household income quintile

Up to £8,409

%

16

31

1060

913

£8,410-13,749

%

21

24

794

767

£13,750-21,784

%

24

17

799

837

£21,785-33,570

%

24

14

727

779

£33,571 and above

%

34

12

846

946

Income unknown

%

17

30

256

244

Family and employment type

Lone parent working >16 hours

%

22

19

322

285

Lone parent unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

17

30

563

454

Couple both working >16 hours

%

27

14

1860

2000

Couple one person working >16 hours

%

22

23

1459

1503

Couple both unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

13

40

218

192

Age of mother at birth

Under 20

%

18

30

335

260

20 to 29

%

21

22

1822

1710

30 to 39

%

24

18

2118

2295

40+

%

30

23

149

162

Mother's highest qualification

Degree

%

28

13

1199

1328

Vocational below degree

%

24

19

1643

1666

Higher grade

%

20

16

365

377

Standard grade

%

19

31

832

752

No qualifications

%

13

33

425

348

All children

%

23

21

4482

4486

3.5.3 Annual visits and events

Sweep 2 also included questions about a different range of activities some of which tend to take place, if at all, on a less regular basis than the kinds of things looked at above. The question took the form of a showcard with a list of places of events that parents could choose from and used the following introduction:

I now have some questions about places or events that (child) might visit or be taken to either by someone in the family, (his/her) childcare provider or someone else. For these questions, we would like you to think about how often (child) has been to the places or events in the last year.

First of all can you tell me which of the following places or events (child) has visited since (month of interview in previous year) ?

Figure 3A shows the proportions of children who had been to each type of place or event in the previous year, when they were aged 22 months. Only two of the places or events had been visited by most children - a zoo/aquarium/farm (73%) and a swimming pool (83%) - though it's also worth noting that just 4% of children had not experienced any of these things.

Figure 3A Places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months

Figure 3A Places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months

Bases: weighted: 4511; unweighted: 4512

As with the daily activities asked about in the survey, this range of places and events is meant to be illustrative of the kinds of activities that children experience rather than an exhaustive picture of their lives. It is also the case that some of the less commonly visited places might have been visited on a large number of occasions by those particular children, while the more common ones (such as a zoo) might have only been a one-off visit so this data cannot be used to draw conclusions on the volume of children's activities. In a similar vein, the study may have omitted to ask about many other types of event that the children could have been to. Despite these limitations, this measure is nonetheless a good indicator of the range and variety of experiences that children have had by the time they are 22 months old. Once again it is helpful to present this information in summary form so the total number of different types of places/events that children had experienced was totalled. Figure 3B shows the number of different places/events and the proportion of children who had experienced them. The graph shows a fairly normal distribution with a slight skew towards the higher numbers though only a very tiny proportion (less than 1%) had experienced all eight of the examples asked about. The mean number of different places/events per child was 3.11.

Figure 3B Number of different places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months

Figure 3B Number of different places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months

Bases: weighted: 4511; unweighted: 4512

3.5.4 Annual visits and events by socio-demographic factors

This final section about activities that children have participated in looks at the ways in which the total number of places/events in the past year varies by socio-demographic factors. It uses the same approach as seen in Table 3.2 and Table 3.4. As the proportions of children who had been to very few or very many of the types of places were very low the scale has been grouped further and now runs from 0-1 to 5 or more, with 14% in the first category and 18% in the last.

Table 3.5 Total number of different places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months, by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, equivalised household income, family and employment type, age of mother at birth and mother's educational attainment

Socio-demographic factors

No. of places/events in past year

0 or 1

2

3

4

5 or more

Bases Weighted

Unweighted

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

15% most deprived areas

%

24

28

23

15

9

821

679

Rest of Scotland

%

12

21

25

22

20

3653

3794

Equivalised household income quintile

Up to £8,409

%

27

30

24

12

8

1067

918

£8,410-13,749

%

15

27

25

19

13

798

771

£13,750-21,784

%

11

21

27

22

19

802

839

£21,785-33,570

%

6

16

26

24

28

731

783

£33,571 and above

%

5

14

23

29

29

849

950

Income unknown

%

25

22

25

14

14

264

250

Family and employment type

Lone parent working >16 hours

%

15

26

31

18

10

326

288

Lone parent unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

27

32

23

12

6

570

459

Couple both working >16 hours

%

8

18

27

23

25

1867

2008

Couple one person working >16 hours

%

13

21

23

23

19

1465

1508

Couple both unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

40

31

17

6

6

222

195

Age of mother at birth

Under 20

%

24

35

27

11

2

337

262

20 to 29

%

16

26

28

18

12

1839

1723

30 to 39

%

11

17

23

23

25

2126

2304

40+

%

14

14

20

23

28

149

162

Mother's highest qualification

Degree

%

4

12

23

29

33

1204

1334

Vocational below degree

%

12

25

27

20

16

1650

1672

Higher grade

%

13

18

28

20

20

366

378

Standard grade

%

21

33

26

13

8

844

761

No qualifications

%

39

25

19

13

5

428

350

All children

%

14

22

25

20

18

4511

4511

As with the previous two tables of this type, the data can be read in two ways. Firstly, it is possible to compare the activity levels of children within the same socio-demographic group. For example, one in four (24%) children who live in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland had visited one or none of these places/events in the past year whereas just one in ten (9%) had visited five or more. Secondly, the experiences of children from different socio-demographic groups can be contrasted. Still looking at area deprivation, the table shows that children in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland were twice as likely as those in the rest of Scotland to have visited none or just one of the places/ events (24% and 12% respectively). At the other end of the scale they were half as likely to have visited five or more (9% and 20% respectively). Once again, children's experiences at age 22 months were strongly influenced by their families' access to resources, such as income, as well as other sources of advantage, such as education.

3.6 Parental attitudes towards activities at age 22 months

This section moves away from direct measures of children's activities and instead focuses on the importance that parents attach to some of the activities reported in the preceding sections. The questions asked about a range of activities, some of which correspond with the questions about daily and annual activities explored above, and used the following format:

How important is it for you that (child) experiences social activities such as visiting friends or relatives or having friends or relatives visit you?

Figure 3C shows the levels of importance parents placed on each of the activities asked about. These were examined using factor analysis, a technique that looks for underlying patterns within data to identify common themes. The factor analysis showed that parents' views about the importance of activities were highly correlated. There was, however, one exception: television. This is evident from the results shown below as the proportion who said it was important for their children to watch television was so much lower than for the other activities there is little scope for answers to this question to correspond with the rest of the items asked about (and it is worth noting that the question was only of parents whose children had watched television in the past week whereas the other questions were asked of all parents, another reason why it is unsuitable for use in this scale).

Figure 3C Parents' attitudes towards the importance of different activities for their children, at age 22 months

Figure 3B Number of different places or events children had been to in previous year, at age 22 months

Bases: weighted: 3620-4511; unweighted: 3631-4509

Each of the ratings could be of interest in their own right when it comes to analysing their impact on later cognitive outcomes. For example, the importance parents attached to educational activities and reading at age 22 months could exert an influence on children's cognitive ability at 34 months if this importance rating means that those parents were more likely to read with their child or play the kinds of educational games that help develop cognitive ability. It is certainly the case that parents who rated this as very important were more likely to have children who did these kinds of activities on a regular basis (32% of parents who rated educational games and reading as important had children who played shapes, letters and numbers games every day compared with 19% of parents who rated such games as quite important). However, not all of the measures have a similar theoretical underpinning and as one of the intentions of this analysis is to explore parents' attitudes to activities more broadly it is also useful to create a summary measure of overall views. This was constructed by summing the total number of items that had been rated as 'very important'. Due to its different nature when compared with the rest of the activities, television was excluded from this summary scale. Figure 3D shows the distribution of parents across the scale. The mean number of activities given the highest rating was 3.2. The data is skewed towards the right of the scale though there is a sharp fall off between the proportions who rated four (36%) and those who rated all five (14%) as very important. In contrast just one in twenty (5%) said none of the activities were very important, and many of these parents will have rated the activities as 'quite important'.

Figure 3D Scale of activities parents rated as 'very important', at age 22 months

Figure 3D Scale of activities parents rated as 'very important', at age 22 months

Bases: weighted: 4500; unweighted: 4504

3.6.1 Parental attitudes towards activities by socio-demographic factors

This section looks at the scale importance attached to activities by the same socio-demographic factors that were explored in relation to children's participation in activities. Due to the small sample sizes at the extreme ends of the scale the first and second categories (0 and 1) and the last two categories (4 and 5) have been combined.

Table 3.6 Scale of activities parents rated as 'very important', at age 22 months, by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, equivalised household income, family and employment type, age of mother at birth and mother's educational attainment

Socio-demographic factors

No. of places/events in past year

0 or 1

2

3

4 or 5

Bases Weighted

Unweighted

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

15% most deprived areas

%

16

17

21

46

813

674

Rest of Scotland

%

11

13

25

51

3650

3791

Equivalised household income quintile

Up to £8,409

%

19

18

25

38

1058

912

£8,410-13,749

%

13

16

24

47

797

770

£13,750-21,784

%

10

13

25

52

802

839

£21,785-33,570

%

9

10

24

57

730

782

£33,571 and above

%

5

8

24

62

849

950

Income unknown

%

17

17

19

48

264

250

Family and employment type

Lone parent working >16 hours

%

13

12

21

54

326

288

Lone parent unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

19

17

25

38

567

457

Couple both working >16 hours

%

8

11

24

57

1866

2007

Couple one person working >16 hours

%

12

13

26

49

1463

1507

Couple both unemployed/ working <16 hours

%

28

29

16

28

218

192

Age of mother at birth

Under 20

%

18

19

23

40

337

262

20 to 29

%

13

14

23

51

1833

1718

30 to 39

%

10

12

25

52

2124

2302

40+

%

13

17

26

43

149

162

Mother's highest qualification

Degree

%

6

10

24

60

1204

1334

Vocational below degree

%

11

13

25

51

1645

1670

Higher grade

%

10

15

23

52

365

377

Standard grade

%

16

18

23

43

842

760

No qualifications

%

24

17

25

34

42

347

All children

%

13

14

24

50

4500

4504

For simplicity the following discussion focuses on those parents who attached very little importance to the activities rather than the much higher proportion who rated most or all of the activities highly. Perhaps the most interesting point to take from Table 3.6 is the fact that some of the patterns that have been quite striking in the previous analyses of children's activities and socio-demographic factors are not replicated here. For example, mother's age at birth and area deprivation appear to be only weakly associated with importance ratings. For example, 18% of younger mothers (aged under 20) when their child was born rated none or one of the activities as very important while the corresponding figure for mothers aged over 40 is only five percentage points lower, at 13%. The equivalent gap between these groups was higher in relation to all three activity measures presented above in Table 3.2, Table 3.4, and Table 3.5. A similar pattern exists for area deprivation; there is less difference between families in the most deprived 15% of areas and the rest of Scotland than was evident in Table 3.2 and Table 3.5. This is not to say that area deprivation and mother's age at birth are not important, all these factors have a statistically significant association with the importance ratings, it is simply that the association is less strong. It appears that household income and family type have a particularly strong association with importance ratings. For example, 28% of couple families where both adults were unemployed or who worked for fewer than 16 hours rated one or only one activity as very important compared with 8% of couple families with two adults employed for more than 16 hours.

3.7 Parental satisfaction with activities at age 22 months

This final section looks at parents' responses to a question about their overall level of satisfaction with the range of activities available to their child. The four answer options offered in the question were:

I am very happy with the range of activities that my child has access to

I am quite happy with the range of activities that my child has access to

I would like my child to have access to a slightly wider range of activities

I would like my child to have access to a much wider range of activities

As shown in Figure 3E, over half of parents were either very or quite happy with their children's range of activities, though it is worth highlighting that only one in five (19%) gave the most positive response. At the other end of the scale a similar proportion of parents said they would like their children's range of activities to be much wider (16%).

Figure 3E Parental satisfaction with children's range of activities, at age 22 months

Figure 3E Parental satisfaction with children's range of activities, at age 22 months

Base: weighted: 4460; unweighted: 4464

3.7.1 Parental satisfaction with activities by socio-demographic factors

Having already established that children from more disadvantaged families tend to participate in fewer activities overall it will be interesting to see whether these families were also more likely to want their children to have a wider range of activities. It could be, for example, that parents of children who already experience lots of activities also want their children to do more. Table 3.7 suggests that demand for a wider range of activities is greatest among those in the more disadvantaged groups (who, as already seen, also tend to experience fewer activities): in the 15% most deprived of areas, with the lowest household incomes, in families where no adult works more than 16 hours a week, mothers aged under 20 when their child was born, and mothers with few or no qualifications.

Table 3.7 Parental satisfaction with children's range of activities, at age 22 months, by Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, equivalised household income, family and employment type, age of mother at birth and mother's educational attainment

Socio-demographic factors

Parental views of their children's range of activities

Very happy

Quite happy

Slightly wider range

Much wider range

Bases Weighted

Unweighted

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

15% most deprived areas

%

13

30

31

26

812

671

Rest of Scotland

%

20

39

27

13

3613

3754

Equivalised household income quintile

Up to £8,409

%

11

30

33

27

1057

910

£8,410-13,749

%

13

36

32

19

786

759

£13,750-21,784

%

18

41

29

12

795

832

£21,785-33,570

%

24

43

24

10

724

775

£33,571 and above

%

31

41

20

8

841

941

Income unknown

%

23

37

22

18

258

245

Family and employment type

Lone parent working >16 hours

%

17

37

26

20

324

287

Lone parent unemployed/working <16 hours

%

9

29

30

33

564

454

Couple both working >16 hours

%

22

42

25

11

1852

1992

Couple one person working >16 hours

%

22

37

28

13

1442

1485

Couple both unemployed/working <16 hours

%

10

30

35

25

219

193

Age of mother at birth

Under 20

%

13

31

32

24

336

261

20 to 29

%

15

36

31

18

1816

1701

30 to 39

%

23

39

25

13

2104

2282

40+

%

26

41

23

11

146

159

Mother's highest qualification

Degree

%

30

42

21

7

1194

1325

Vocational below degree

%

16

37

30

17

1629

1651

Higher grade

%

21

40

28

11

366

377

Standard grade

%

13

36

30

21

826

744

No qualifications

%

13

27

33

28

426

349

All children

%

19

37

28

16

4460

4464

3.8 Summary of measures of activities

As noted in the introduction to this chapter, the analysis of children's activities and parent's attitudes presented here is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of this topic. Rather, the intention was to identify those measures that had been selected to be used in the analysis of cognitive ability at age 34 months. Arriving at a comprehensive set of measures always presents challenges in terms of ensuring adequate coverage of a topic. Having too many measures could result in findings that are difficult to unpick and interpret, too few and there is a danger that the issue hasn't been explored to its fullest potential. While existing literature in the area is an essential starting point, as is the formation of testable hypotheses, these kinds of selection processes are ultimately a matter of judgement for the analyst.

The measures of activities investigated in the following chapter in relation to cognitive ability are:

  • Activities at age 10 months
    • Frequency of reading with the child
    • Whether the child ever visits the library
  • Activities at age 22 months
    • Number of days in the past week the child had played educational games (recognising shapes, numbers, letters)
    • Overall daily activity levels in past week (composite measure based on five activities, in quartiles)
    • Number of different places/events child had been to in past year
  • Parental attitudes at age 22 months
    • Parent's perceptions of the importance of playing educational games
    • Number of activities parents rated as very important for their child to do
    • Parental satisfaction levels with child's range of activities

Although the range of available indicators at the first sweep, when the children were aged 10 months, is somewhat limited it is important to include some measures from this point. If very early activities such as reading or exposure to libraries are shown to influence cognitive ability at a later stage then this will help signal the point at which policy interventions need to be targeted. Similarly, if certain activities at 22 months prove to be influential then this would suggest other kinds of interventions. The two composite scales of daily activities and visits to different places in the course of a year provide useful summary measures of a child's overall experiences and lifestyle. There is also good reason to investigate the independent effect of activities that are likely to encourage the development of the kinds of skills that are tested in the cognitive ability tests. For this reason playing educational games, and parent's attitudes towards the importance of such games, are also looked at on their own. This investigation of early childhood experiences and cognitive ability is hopefully a useful starting point, others may wish to take the analysis in different directions.