Children from disadvantaged families start their formal schooling behind on cognitive and socio-emotional skills critical for school adjustment. This is also true in Scandinavian countries known for publicly subsidized childcare systems with universal access and high participation. These systems often have a limited curricular focus and strong emphasis on free play. We implement an RCT to investigate whether universal childcare centers in Norway can close some of the gaps in children’s developmental trajectories. The intervention increases the curricular focus with more playful skill-building activities in language, math and socio-emotional skills during the last year in childcare. 501 children in 71 centers participated in the trial, of which 31 centers were randomly selected to receive the treatment. We examine treatment effects by assessing children's school readiness skills at the beginning and at the end of the treatment year. Our results indicate that universal childcare centers in Norway can improve key school readiness skills through more systematic stimulation. However, there are no significant differences in how advantaged and disadvantaged children benefit from the intervention.

 

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