EHLS at School

The original Early Home Learning Study (EHLS) aimed to identify the best way to support parents experiencing difficult social circumstances to create a rich home learning environment for their young children. This three-year study was conducted at the Parenting Research Centre, in partnership with and funded by the Victorian Department of Early Education and Childhood Development. More than 2,000 Victorian parents of children aged 6 – 36 months  were involved in the randomised controlled trial of the parenting support program, smalltalk, between 2010 and 2013.

The findings showed that, compared to controls, smalltalk participants had greater gains in parent-child interactions, the home environment and children's communication and social skills at the end of program delivery and at 5-month follow-up.

EHLS at School follows up the original EHLS cohort at 7 years of age. In Australia, 23% of children entering primary school have failed to acquire the developmental skills essential for success in the school environment. Children from socially and economically disadvantaged families are particularly vulnerable to poorer development of early socio-emotional, language and cognitive skills. EHLS at school examines whether positive early effects of the smalltalk program are sustained into the early school years. The EHLS at School study is funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Project between the research team at La Trobe University, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Parenting Research Centre, Deakin University, Griffith University, The University of Melbourne and Queensland University of Technology and the Victorian Department of Early Education and Childhood Development.


The study aims to:

  1. Investigate the effects of smalltalk on children's school readiness (age 5), social and emotional development (age 7), and academic functioning (ages 5-10).
  2. Investigate whether initial gains in parent-child interactions and the home environment are maintained to age 7.
  3. Identify the program attributes of smalltalk (program intensity, quality and timing) associated with gains in parent-child interactions, the home environment and child outcomes.
  4. Examine whether the benefits of smalltalk are affected by individual child and family factors such as temperament, self-regulation, and parent and family contextual factors.

EHLS at School commenced data collection in 2015, visiting over 600 families when children turned 7.5 years old. Data collection concluded in 2018. In addition, we have  linked to routinely collected Victorian data from the School Entry Health Questionnaire and English Online Interview, which parents and teachers complete when children enter school at age five, and academic results from the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) at Grades 3 and 5.


To date, five scientific papers have been published related to the EHLS at School study. The primary outcomes paper is currently being prepared.

Bennetts, S. K., Love, J., Westrupp, E. M., Hackworth, N., Mensah, F. K., Nicholson, J. M., & Levickis, P. (2021). Protocol for the adaptation of a direct observational measure of parent-child interaction for use with 7-8-year-old children. Frontiers in Psychology, 11:619336.

Bennett, C., Cullinane, M., Bennetts, S.K., Love, J., Hackworth, N.J., Mensah, F.K., Reilly, S., Nicholson, J.M., & Westrupp, E.M. (2020). Tablet-based adaptation and administration of the Castles and Coltheart Reading Test 2 for a large longitudinal study, PLOS ONE, 15(9): e0239420.

Love, J., Bennetts, S.K., Berthelsen, D., Hackworth, N.J., Westrupp, E.M., Mensah, F.K., & Nicholson, J.M. (2020). Measuring educational attainment in longitudinal research: challenges and recommendations. International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

Bennetts, S.K., Love, J., Hackworth, N.J., Mensah, F.K., Westrupp, E.M., Berthelsen, D., Levickis, P., Bennett., C., & Nicholson, J.M. (2020). Selective attrition in longitudinal studies: Effective processes for Facebook tracing. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 24(2), 135-147

Westrupp, E.M., Bennett, C., Cullinane, M., Hackworth, N.J., Berthelsen, D., Reilly, S., Mensah, F.K., Gold, L., Bennetts, S.K., Levickis, P. & Nicholson, J.M. (2018). EHLS at School: School-age follow-up of the Early Home Learning Study cluster randomized controlled trial. BMC Pediatrics, 18(1), 148.

Research team

La Trobe University (Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program, Judith Lumley Centre)

  • Professor Jan Nicholson
  • Dr Shannon Bennetts
  • Ms Jasmine Love
  • Dr Clair Bennett

Parenting Research Centre, Melbourne

  • Dr Naomi Hackworth

Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne

  • Dr Fiona Mensah

Deakin University, Melbourne

  • Associate Professor Elizabeth Westrupp
  • Professor Lisa Gold

Queensland University of Technology

  • Professor Donna Berthelsen

Griffith University

  • Professor Sheena Reilly

The University of Melbourne

  • Dr Penny Levickis


National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership Project Grant with the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training (DET, formerly the Department of Education and Early Child Development).


Dr Shannon Bennetts OR

Phone: +61 3 9479 8763