In a recent study conducted by Michigan State University, researchers find that many children are still learning to control their behavior as they enter kindergarten and may need educational support to develop that critical skill.
The finding is published in the journal Developmental Psychology. It is one of the most conclusive studies to date of early childhood self-regulation.
In the study, the researchers showed major differences in how self-regulation develops in children ages 3 to 7.
While some enter preschool are more able to control their behavior and ready to learn, others don’t develop such self-control until they get to kindergarten – or even later.
The findings come as preschool and kindergarten classrooms in the United States have shifted focus over the past few decades from social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, to more academic skills.
The researchers suggest it may be time to put some of the focus back on self-regulation, which is widely accepted as a marker for future success.
If adults can help children to develop this fundamental skill of behavioral self-regulation, it will allow these students to get so much more out of education. Previous research has shown that self-regulation is very predictive of academic success.
The researchers analyzed the data from 3 separate studies that measured the “Head, Toes, Knees and Shoulders” task, in which young children are instructed to do the opposite of what they’re told.
If they’re told to touch their head, for example, they’re supposed to touch their toes. This ability to do the opposite of what they want to do naturally and to stay focused for the entire task involves self-regulation.
A clear pattern emerged in each of the studies, with participants generally fitting into one of three trajectories: early developers, intermediate developers and later developers.
On average, the later developers were 6-12 months behind intermediate developers and at least 18 months behind early developers.
Overall, about a fifth of the 1,386 participants appeared to make few gains on behavioral self-regulation in preschool.
Echoing previous research, the study also found that development of self-control was linked to several key factors: gender (boys were more likely to be later developers), language skills and mother’s education levels.
The researchers suggest that self-regulation is crucial to helping kids get an early jump on education, from math to literacy – really all the skills they learn in school.
The kids that develop later are really missing out on these great opportunities. They’re already behind.
News source: Michigan State University.
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