Most Latino toddlers start school at least seven months behind when compared to white children. But Latino children enter kindergarten with social skills that rival white peers, despite social-class disparities, according to new research from UC Berkeley and UCLA.
The report recently published in the "Maternal Child Health Journal" found the social competencies between Latinos and whites toddlers are indistinguishable. The researchers caution teachers, pediatricians and other health care providers to "not assume social-emotional delays, even when language or cognitive skills lag somewhat behind."
The team of researchers looked at how cognitive trajectories widen during the 24-48 month period and how these patterns may differ for Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans.
The UC pediatricians and child development specialists tracked a nationwide sample of 4,700 children born in 2001 over a three-year period, when they were between ages 2 and 5 and not yet kindergarteners. Two-thirds of these children were of Mexican descent. Just under one-fifth (19 percent) of them had at least one parent of Latino heritage.
The researchers found startling evidence: Mexican American toddlers between ages 2 and 3 displayed language and cognitive skills about eight months behind those of their white peers, whether assessed in English or Spanish. This gap persisted through ages 4 and 5, with Mexican American children entering kindergarten already behind.
"We found that Latino kids bring to school strong emotional skills and strong social skills, which means they know how to share with their peers. They know how to follow instructions. They know how to listen. And one other thing that we found is that these kids are being raised in very supportive and warm family environments," Claudia Galindo, a sociologist at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, who helped with the study told NPR.
"We've got to move education policymakers away from the assumption that we need to fix these kids, we need to fix the parenting skills, not simply assume that they have weaknesses that need to be tinkered with and corrected," Bruce Fuller, one of the main authors of the UCLA-UC Berkeley study, told NPR.
The researchers also noted findings from a the 2011 book "The Immigrant Paradox in Children and Adolescents" that found children of Latino and Asian immigrants at times show more healthy social behavior and stronger engagement in school than later-generation offspring.