New Report from Growing Up in Ireland Study Highlights Impact of Recreation on Academic Performance

Posted on: 27 January 2012

Growing Up in Ireland – The National Longitudinal Study of Children published a new report from the study on children’s recreational activities and the way in which they can influence school performance. The report was launched jointly by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, TD and the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, at an event in Pearse Street Library, Dublin, recently.

Growing Up in Ireland – ‘Influences on 9-Year-Olds’ Learning: Home, School and Community’ examines the ways in which children’s recreation outside school can influence their educational achievement. It places children’s activities in the context of their home, school and neighbourhood, highlighting important issues for policy development.

The findings are based on data from the first round of interviews with 8,500 nine-year-old children as well as interviews with their parents, teachers and principals.  Interviewing took place from September 2007 to June 2008.  As part of the study the children took the Drumcondra assessment test in reading and maths, a test widely used in primary schools. Now that they have turned 13 years of age these children, and their families, are currently taking part in a follow-up interview. (A full download of the report and the executive summary is available online.)

(L to R) Professor Emer Smyth, ESRI; Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, Dr Selina McCoy, ESRI, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, Ms Amanda Quail, ESRI.

Key findings include:

– Nine-year-old children fall into five distinct groups on the basis of their activities outside school:

1. Cultural Activities (25%): Those who are very involved in cultural activities, such as music and drama lessons/clubs and reading for pleasure

2. Sports & Computer Games (20%): Those who spend a lot of time playing sports and computer games

3. Social Networkers (18%): Those who use computers a lot, especially for keeping in touch with friends

4. Busy Lives (15%): Those who spend time on a very wide range of structured activities, leading ‘busy lives’

5. TV & Sports (23%): Those who spend their spare time in mainly unstructured activities, such as watching TV and spending time with friends, and rarely use ICT.

– The main difference in children’s out-of-school activities centres on ICT use. The majority (73%) of nine-year-olds use computers for fun/games, 42% use them for learning (outside school), 22% for music/movies and 17% for social networking.

– This contrasts with computer use in school. The vast majority of nine year olds have access to computers in school – access was higher among those in single-sex and Gaeltacht schools, and among those being taught in multi-grade settings or by a male teacher.

– Over 40% of nine-year-olds do not have internet access at school and over a fifth hardly ever use ICT in class. The use of ICT in classroom learning was greater in private schools, designated disadvantaged schools and Gaeltacht schools, and in urban areas.

– There are clear differences in school performance according to the types of activities in which children engage. Children who take part in cultural activities and in social networking have higher levels of reading and mathematics performance than others. However, being involved in too many activities cancels out some of the educational benefits.

– The lowest levels of educational achievement are found among those who mainly engage in unstructured activities (such as watching TV) and who do not use ICT.

– There are clear gender differences in children’s recreation. Girls are more likely to be involved in cultural activities and to use social media to keep in touch with friends. Boys are more involved in playing sports and computer games.

– Out-of-school activities are also influenced by the schools children attend. Nine year olds attending gaelscoileanna are more likely to be involved in cultural activities and watch less TV than other children. Children who use the internet in school are more likely to use computers outside school.

– Children from middle-class and highly educated families are more involved in cultural activities than those from the most disadvantaged families (one-in-three compared to less than one in 10). Because many of these activities need to be paid for, low income may be an obstacle to participation for some children. This is a significant finding since these activities have been found to enhance school engagement and academic performance.

– Children’s activities vary depending on the neighbourhood they live in. Nine out of 10 mothers feel it is safe for their child to play outside during the day while over half (57%) say there are recreational facilities appropriate to a 9 year old in their local area. Children are more involved in structured cultural activities where there are local recreational facilities. (Parents who feel there are no safe places to play locally are also more likely to send their children to structured cultural activities.

Speaking at today’s event the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD said: “This report threads together a rich tapestry detailing Irish children’s lives and provides an important insight into their opportunities for informal learning. More importantly this report highlights the merits of a joined-up approach to improving outcomes for children through improving children’s opportunities to access out-of-school activities and learning opportunities. I look forward to working with my colleague the Minister for Education & Skills in considering the findings of this report.”

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, added: “The results of this study provide important information for parents, policy makers and researchers and will provide a useful input to policy development across Government.”

Also speaking today, the report authors, Selina McCoy, Amanda Quail and Emer Smyth, said: “What children do outside school matters for how they do in school. There is a risk that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds may lose out academically if they do not have access to the same kinds of organised activities as their more middle-class peers. The report raises a number of important policy issues around subsidies for children’s recreation, access to safe play areas within local neighbourhoods, and awareness of the importance of children’s out-of-school activities for their development.”

Growing Up in Ireland is a Government funded study following the progress of almost 20,000 children and their families – a Child Cohort of 8,500 children interviewed at nine years and 13 years of age and an Infant Cohort of 11,100 children participating at nine months and three years of age. The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. Those wishing to find out more about the study or today’s event can visit the study’s website