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.

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 per cent 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. We will examine 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 Partnership Project between the research team at La Trobe University, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Deakin University, and Queensland University of Technology and the Victorian Department of Early Education and Childhood Development.


EHLS at School commenced data collection in 2015 and is currently following up children when they turn 7 years old (between 2015 and 2018). To date, we have visited 500 families. In addition, we will link 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.

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. Determine the financial, health and education costs and benefits of smalltalk.
  5. 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.

Research team

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

  • Professor Jan Nicholson
  • Dr Elizabeth Westrupp
  • Ms Shannon Bennetts

Parenting Research Centre, Melbourne

  • Dr Naomi Hackworth

Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne

  • Professor Sheena Reilly
  • Dr Fiona Mensah
  • Dr Penny Levickis

Deakin University, Melbourne

  • Associate Professor Lisa Gold

Queensland University of Technology

  • Professor Donna Berthelsen.


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


Phone: +61 3 9479 8763