There are no disparities in the social skills and social-emotional well-being of lower-income Mexican American children entering kindergarten and those of more affluent non-Hispanic white children, according to a new study out of the University of California Berkeley and the University of California Los Angeles and published in the Maternal Child Health Journal. The researchers say that Mexican-American children’s robust social well-being, even if they come from poor, mainly Spanish-speaking households, is likely rooted in warm and supportive households.
The Mexican-American children in the study, however, were lagging in oral language and interactive and cognitive skills by 24 months of age, as compared to the non-Hispanic white children. In fact, at about 2 or 3, toddlers of Mexican descent were about 8 months behind non-Latino white children, whether assessed in Spanish or English. This is partly due, say the researchers, to the Mexican mothers’ lower educational attainment, the number of children in the household, and less reading at home. Nearly half of Mexican American or Latino children were only read to once a week or less, compared to 14 percent of non-Hispanic white children in the study.
The Mexican-American households were also poorer; 37 percent of the families were under the federal poverty line, compared to 10 percent of the non-Latino white households.
Pediatricians and educators should focus on encouraging lower-income, Spanish-speaking moms to speak and read more to their children, say the researchers. “Practitioners should also be more attuned to recommending these practices if home environments of Latino youngsters included low levels of maternal education, weaker cognitive facilitation, and large family size, factors we show slow cognitive growth.”
More importantly, the report concludes, professionals should not ‘conflate’ or lump together lags in literacy with social-emotional skills. In fact, the study says teachers can use this knowledge of Latino children’s strong social skills in the classroom, as teacher Rosa Hong from the Mission Neighborhood Center’s Head Start program said in a KQED report on the study.
“The peer interactions — they really push each other to ask the hard questions, to figure out a puzzle,” she says. “A hard puzzle that would be frustrating for them to do with a teacher would be fun for them to do with a peer.”