Working paper

How Much Is Too Much?

The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children’s Social and Cognitive Development
Susanna Loeb
Stanford Graduate School of Education
Margaret Bridges
University of California, Berkeley
Daphna Bassok
University of Virginia
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Russell W. Rumberger
University of California, Santa Barbara


Previous research has demonstrated that attending center care is associated with cognitive benefits for young children. However, little is known about the ideal age for children to enter such care or the "right" amount of time, both weekly and yearly, for children to attend center programs. Using national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K), this paper asks whether there are optimal levels of center care duration and intensity and whether these levels vary by race or income. The paper considers pre-reading and math skills as measured by assessments administered at the beginning of kindergarten, as well as teacher-reported social-behavioral measures. It finds that on average, attending center care is associated with positive gains in pre-reading and math skills, but negative social behavior. Across economic levels, children who start center care between ages two and three see greater gains than those who start centers earlier or later. Further, starting earlier than age two is related to more pronounced negative social effects. Results for center intensity vary by income levels and race. For instance, poor and middle-income children see academic gains from attending center intensively (more than 30 hours a week), but wealthier children do not; and while intense center negatively impacts social development for Blacks and whites, it does not have any negative impact for Hispanic children.

Suggested citationLoeb, S., Bridges, M., Bassok, D., Fuller, B., & Rumberger, R. W. (2005, December). How much is too much? The influence of preschool centers on children’s social and cognitive development [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.