Bringing order out of chaos : an examination of continuity and discontinuity in young children's experiences of household and classroom chaos during early childhood
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Early childhood—a period of development that research has established as a critical period for establishing a foundation to support later development and well-being—is increasingly likely to take place in multiple contexts. Continuity and discontinuity in children’s exposure to environmental chaos across two important contexts for their early development: (1) the home and (2) the early learning and care (ELC) setting were examined using data from a large representative sample of low-income preschool children attending Head Start in order to determine how children’s exposure to chaos in each context combine to either promote or interfere with their social-emotional and cognitive development over a year of preschool. A series of multi-level models tested whether children’s experiences of chaos, operationalized in three ways: (1) as individual indicators of crowding, lack of routines, and instability in each setting; (2) as a cumulative index of chaos in each setting; and (3) as a profile that incorporated children’s experiences across setting, influenced children’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Both household and classroom chaos predicted children’s development, but children’s experiences in their home environments were the predominant influence, indicating that children who had non-chaotic home environments gained more over the preschool year than did children who had chaotic homes. These findings provide additional support that effective and high-quality early education and care settings must incorporate children’s home and family experiences.