The American Psychological Association says that low socioeconomic status can affect a child's education, health, and participation in society throughout his or her life. Similarly, there is a big gap in achievement between children of higher- and lower-income families.

The effects on children of low socioeconomic status often stem from their parents. In a study of kindergarten children, 36 percent of parents with low income read to their children on a daily basis, compared to the 62 percent of parents who did with high income. The children from lower-income families tend to do poorer in school. However, because these children are young, they can be shown to pay more attention, think critically, and otherwise improve their experiences of information processing.

As far back as the 1960s, studies have indicated that programs directed toward helping low-income children to improve their reading and cognitive skills through their parents' involvement can improve long- and short-term deficits in the low-income children. In a new study to test the efficacy of these programs, as well as what improvements could be made, a group of 141 children were studied. All of them were enrolled in head start programs to improve school readiness, but half were also enrolled in an eight-week family based training program, entitled Parents and Children Making Connections - Highlighting Attention (PCMC-A). The children attended two classes weekly to train on how to pay attention, communicate with their peers, and prepare for school. Their parents also took three training classes, teaching them to reinforce the things their children were learning in their eight-week course as well as instructing them on making their child's home life more structured with chore charts and picture-based schedules of sleeping and waking times and homework..

After the eight-week course was over, researchers examined the children's literacy and language skills. Researchers found that the children enrolled in PCMC-A made greater gains than those who were only in head start programs. These improvements indicate that the PCMC-A program was effective in encouraging cognitive development. When researchers asked parents about behavior, they reported that great gains were made in terms of improving problem behavior and social skills through PCMC-A. The program was also helpful in teaching children to improve their decorum in a school setting, instead of being disruptive due to inattention. Similarly, parents were nearly five times less stressed about their parenting decisions than the parents of children in head start programs alone.

Researchers indicate that the parents' use of scheduling for sleeping and waking times may have made the greatest difference. In previous studies, poor sleep habits have been linked to poor academic outcomes in children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as inconsistency in the home environment.

This study has shown the efficacy of additional school readiness programs for children from lower-income families, especially when it involves not just them but also their parents.

Source: Neville, HJ, Stevens C, Pkulak E, et al. Family-based training program improves brain function, cognition, and behavior in lower socioeconomic status preschoolers. PNAS. 2013.