1. Study suggests engaging children in math at home equals a boost in more than just math skills

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Purdue University press release:

    Preschool children who engage in math activities at home with their parents not only improve their math skills, but also their general vocabulary, according to research from Purdue University.

    “Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary,” said Amy Napoli, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who led the study. “And one of the reasons we think this could be is the dialogue that happens when parents are teaching their children about math and asking questions about values and comparisons, which helps these young children improve their oral language skills.”

    The findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    “It’s never too early to talk about numbers and quantities. One of the first words young children learn is ‘more,'” said David Purpura, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and senior author of the study.

    There are a number of ways parents can encourage math learning at home, such as talking about counting, connecting numbers to quantities and comparing values — more and less. It also helps to focus on counting as purposeful, such as “there are three cookies for a snack” rather than “there are cookies for a snack.”

    “This focus on math typically isn’t happening at home, but this shows that when parents do include math concepts it can make a difference,” said Napoli, who is working on tools to help parents improve math-related instruction at home. “When working with families, there is a math-related anxiety aspect and that is probably why more parents focus on literacy than on math. But, if you can count, then you can teach something to your child.”

    This study evaluated 116 preschool children, ages 3-5. The researchers assessed the children’s math and language skills in the fall and spring of the preschool year and examined how what their parents reported about math and literacy activities at home predicted children’s improvement over time. Napoli and Purpura do caution that these findings are only correlational and the future experimental work is needed to evaluate the causal nature of these findings. This research is ongoing work supported by Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.


  2. Study suggests parents help shape how much pain preschoolers feel after vaccination

    by Ashley

    From the York University press release:

    While vaccinations protect children against various illnesses, the pain can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s no wonder most children and parents dread their vaccination appointments. Now new research from York University’s OUCH Cohort at the Faculty of Health found that the amount of distress and pain felt by a preschooler during a vaccination is strongly related to how their parents help them cope before and during an appointment.

    Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell in the Faculty of Health, York Research Chair in Pain and Mental Health and senior author of the paper, has been following the OUCH Cohort children for over a decade. In the study, researchers used the data from 548 children who had been followed during infant and/or preschool vaccinations. Infants were included in the study if the infant had no suspected developmental delays or impairments, had no chronic illnesses, had never been admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and was born no more than three weeks preterm.

    The research, led by graduate student Lauren Campbell, examined children who were expressing the most pain during preschool vaccinations. The goal of the study was to find out what would best predict the children who had the highest pain and did the poorest coping during the preschool vaccination by watching both the child and the parent over repeated vaccinations over childhood. Researchers evaluated various pain behaviours such as facial activity (grimacing), leg activity (crunching of legs), crying and consolability to measure the level of pain in children. They also looked at what the child and parent said that related to coping with the pain.

    The results suggested that a preschooler’s ability to cope is a powerful tool to reduce pain-related distress but they need parents to support their coping throughout a vaccination appointment to have an impact in reducing pain-related distress.

    “When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle,” says Pillai Riddell.

    The data confirmed that engaging in coping-promoting behaviours like encouraging a child to take deep breaths was important. Using distractions such as pulling out an iPhone or distracting children with plans about what they will do after the appointment also improved children’s coping.

    However, Pillai Riddell says it may be even more important to avoid negative or distress-promoting behaviours.

    “Telling kids that ‘it’s ok, it’s going to be fine’ over and over again actually makes children feel anxious. Parents only say things are ‘okay’ when things are not ok. Ensuring you don’t criticize a child, such as saying: ‘strong girls don’t cry’, ‘big boys don’t do that’ is important. Also, don’t apologize to a child by saying things like: ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is also key, says Pillai Riddell. “These are all distress-promoting behaviours and increase pain and distress.”

    The study, published in Pain, found that not only is a parent’s behaviour during vaccinations critical to a child’s pain coping responses, but that the behaviour may also impact their reactions in the future. Moreover, the research may better inform medical care and may predict suffering by children during vaccinations into adulthood.

    “People who have negative reactions with doctors when they are young, may avoid preventative care in the future. If you didn’t like a needle when you were five, that can stick with you.”


  3. Study suggests dual-language learners outperform monolingual students once they gain English proficiency

    November 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Iowa State University press release:

    Not all dual-language learners are at risk academically, but as a group, these students are often labeled as such, despite differences in their English skills.

    A new Iowa State University study examined how variation in dual language status among Head Start students related to development in cognitive and academic areas. The research team led by Ji-Young Choi, an assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies, found dual-language learners (DLLs) had significant growth, eventually outperforming students who only spoke English, once DLLs gained basic English proficiency. The results are published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

    Choi, Christine Lippard, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State; and Shinyoung Jeon, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, analyzed data measuring inhibitory control (the ability to pay attention and control natural, but unnecessary thoughts or behaviors) and math achievement for low-income students in Head Start through kindergarten. The data, collected through the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009, included 825 children — whose home language was English or Spanish — at 59 Head Start programs across the country.

    Instead of treating DLLs as a homogenous group, researchers created two categories — Spanish-English bilinguals, who can function in both languages; and DLLs with limited English skills — based on ability entering Head Start. They identified stark differences between the DLL groups and English-only students over the course of the study. Entering Head Start, bilingual students had higher inhibitory control, but lower math scores, than English-only students did. DLLs with limited English skills lagged behind both groups. However, over the course of 18 months, bilingual students outperformed English-only students with higher scores in math and inhibitory control, despite having lower baseline scores for math at the beginning of the study.

    DLLs with limited English skills — students considered at risk when they entered Head Start — also made significant progress, the study found. These students outpaced bilingual and English-only students in the rate of gains for inhibitory control skills. While their scores had not caught up with the other two groups by the midpoint of kindergarten (the final point of analysis for the study), Choi expects with more time DLLs with limited English skills would eventually match or even outperform English-only peers as they learn more English and become bilingual.

    “Recognizing that dual-language learners can do better than we expected has huge implications. When these students do not have age-appropriate English skills they are more at risk, but once they achieve those skills they actually excel,” Choi said. “This study also confirms that there is a cognitive benefit for bilingual students.”

    Importance of inhibitory control

    The researchers say that bilingual children’s faster growth rate in inhibitory control over time helped explain the significant difference in kindergarten math skills between bilingual children and English-only students. Based on the FACES data, they could not provide a definitive explanation for the faster growth rate in inhibitory control. However, Choi says the research results lend support to the theory that bilingual students develop stronger inhibitory control skills because of their daily practice toggling between languages to fit the conversation, and inhibiting one language while speaking another.

    Inhibitory control encompasses everything from a child’s ability to suppress the impulse to grab a toy away from a friend to inhibiting the impulse to pronounce a “t” sound at the beginning of the, Lippard said. It is an important foundational skill for academic growth as well as behavior.

    Supporting students’ home language

    Recognizing skill-level differences is important given that DLLs are in more than 70 percent of Head Start classrooms. Lippard says all early childhood educators need to understand the developmental strengths of DLLs, and recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach for teaching these students. The study makes the case for instructional support to help DLLs become proficient in English while learning or maintaining their home language. Lippard says one way to achieve that is by giving students the opportunity to engage with linguistically diverse teachers.

    “Preschool programs are so full of academic expectations that adding a Spanish lesson time may not be helpful or developmentally appropriate,” Lippard said. “Learning Spanish by interacting with a native Spanish speaker and experiencing typical preschool activities like singing songs or reading stories in Spanish holds potential benefits for all of the children in the classroom.”

    Choi would like to see instructional support for DLLs throughout their formal education. DLLs use their home language less and less as they are exposed to English in school and risk losing their home language, Choi said. While it is important for students to be proficient in English, she says DLLs would lose the potential bilingual benefits without support for their home language.


  4. Study finds virtual reality effective in reducing pain during certain medical procedures

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles press release:

    Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures every day, but very few non-pharmaceutical interventions have been found to successfully manage the pain and anxiety associated with these procedures. Investigators at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have conducted a study to determine if virtual reality (VR) can be effectively used for pain management during blood draw. Their findings showed that VR significantly reduced patients’ and parents’ perception of acute pain, anxiety and general distress during the procedure. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

    “Given the immersive and engaging nature of the VR experience, this technology has the capacity to act as a preventative intervention transforming the blood draw experience into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure, particularly for patients with more anxiety about having their blood drawn,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

    While previous research supported the effectiveness of distraction during painful procedures, specifically needle pain, the investigators hypothesized that the new VR technology, an arguably more powerful and immersive intervention could be even more effective at reducing pain and anxiety.

    Gold and study co-author Nicole E. Mahrer, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine at CHLA, theorize that ‘VR analgesia’ or pain control originates from the neurobiological interplay of the parts of the brain that regulate the visual, auditory, and touch sensory experience to produce an analgesic effect.

    For the study, they recruited patients, ages 10 to 21 years, the patient’s caregiver and the phlebotomist in the outpatient blood draw clinic, and randomized them to receive either standard of care, which typically includes a topical anesthetic cream or spray and a movie playing in the room, or standard of care plus the virtual reality game when undergoing routine blood draw. Looking at pre-procedural and post-procedural standardized measures of pain, anxiety and satisfaction, researchers found that VR is feasible, tolerated, and well-liked by patients, their parents and the phlebotomists.

    VR, especially immersive VR, draws heavily on the limited cognitive resource of attention by drawing the user’s attention away from the hospital environment and the medical procedures and into the virtual world,” said Gold who is also a professor of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

    Given the significant concerns about problematic opioid use, evidence-based support for non-pharmaceutical inventions may lead to use of VR for pain management during certain medical procedures and a decreased need for narcotics.

    “Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and chronic pain conditions,” added Gold.


  5. Study suggests childhood spankings can lead to adult mental health problems

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Getting spanked as a child can lead to a host of mental health problems in adulthood, say University of Michigan researchers.

    A new study by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both U-M associate professors of social work, and colleagues indicates the violence caused by spanking can lead adults to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink at moderate-to-heavy levels or use illegal drugs.

    “Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” Grogan-Kaylor said.

    Spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior.

    Researchers note that given that both spanking and physical abuse involves the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, it raises the question of whether spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience. This involves abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which includes divorce and an incarcerated relative.

    The study used data from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which sampled more than 8,300 people, ranging in age from 19 to 97 years. Study participants completed self-reports while seeking routine health checks at an outpatient clinic.

    They were asked about how often they were spanked in their first 18 years, their household background and if an adult inflicted physical abuse (push, grab, slap or shoved) or emotional abuse (insulted or cursed).

    In the study sample, nearly 55 percent of respondents reported being spanked. Men were more likely to experience childhood spanking than women. Compared to white respondents, minority respondents — other than Asians — were more likely to report being spanked.

    Those reporting exposure to spanking had increased odds of depression and other mental health problems, the study showed.

    Author Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that it’s important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

    “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” said Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”


  6. Study suggests neighborhood’s quality influences children’s behaviors through teens

    November 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health press release:

    The quality of the neighborhood where a child grows up has a significant impact on the number of problem behaviors they display during elementary and teenage years, a study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggests.

    The findings, published in the November issue of Social Science & Medicine, indicate that neighborhood quality has significant and long-term effects on child and adolescent problem behaviors, findings that can help inform national, state, and local housing policy and community investment decisions.

    Using survey data collected between 1997 and 2007 on 3,563 children, the researchers found that children seven- to 12-years- old had significantly more serious behavior problems if they lived in neighborhoods that their parent rated as “poor” for raising children, compared to those living in the “excellent” neighborhoods. For the study, parents rated their neighborhoods as either ‘excellent,’ ‘very good,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair,’ or ‘poor’ for raising children, with 20 being the highest score, for excellent, and zero, for poor. Externalizing problem behavior scores were 1.7 points lower for those in ‘excellent’ neighborhoods; the average problem behavior score was 4, with possible values ranging from 0-20.

    Past studies have shown that externalizing behaviors — or problem behaviors that are directed toward the external environment, such as fighting, stealing, destroying property, or refusing to follow rules — affect 6 to 7 percent of children in industrialized western societies, a rate that increases with age. Many children with these problems continue to be disruptive and exhibit problems into adolescence.

    Over the decade of follow-up for the study, parents completed questionnaires about their child’s behavior. Youth living in neighborhoods rated “excellent” had additional decreases in externalizing behaviors compared to those living in “poor” quality neighborhoods. The lower levels of behavior problems among adolescents in better neighborhoods was primarily explained by lower levels of parental distress and family conflict. Parents’ ratings of neighborhood quality were not associated with externalizing behaviors among children six-years-old and younger.

    These behaviors predict more serious adverse outcomes later in life, such as substance abuse, delinquency, and violence, explains study leader Anne Riley, PhD, professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. Previous studies have linked poor neighborhood quality to a higher risk of these behaviors, she adds. However, the timing of these neighborhood effects and how neighborhoods affect children’s behavior through their effect on parents’ stress and family conflict has not been previously shown.

    To develop a better understanding of neighborhood effects on externalizing behaviors, the researchers used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal study that has surveyed thousands of families over multiple generations since 1968 about the economic, social, and health factors that affect them. As part of this survey, primary caregivers of children aged three years and older completed a 10-item Behavioral Problem Index (such as whether the child was “disobedient” or “mean to others”) was “often,” “sometimes” or “not” true.

    Neighborhood quality was also rated by independent observers based on five conditions, including deterioration of housing units, neglect of the street, garbage on the street or sidewalk, signs of drug use on the street, and noise outside the home. Their rating scores were essentially the same as those of parents.

    Additionally, the survey assessed family resources, including income and education, and other measures that impact children’s psychological functioning and behavior, such as parental distress, family conflict, non-corporal discipline, parental monitoring, and deviant peer affiliation.

    Riley notes that the connection between neighborhood effects and a child’s age might be simply a function of time — the longer a child is exposed to their environment, the stronger that environment’s influence is likely to be. Additionally, having better family conditions might buffer the effects of a poor quality neighborhood, or strengthen the effects of a good neighborhood.

    A striking result for the study, she adds, is that most caregivers were well aware that they lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t the best environment for raising children. Other research has shown that many are unable to leave due to circumstances such as cost of quality housing, proximity to jobs, or, for minority families, the difficulty of living in unfamiliar communities. As income inequality has grown over the past several decades, Riley explains, many parents are forced to raise their children in places that feel chaotic or unsafe, circumstances that are far from ideal for development. Future studies will be necessary to assess whether housing programs currently in place mitigate these factors and lead to fewer externalizing behaviors in at-risk children.

    “I think this is a wakeup call for understanding the power of neighborhoods to contribute to the crime and behavior problems that we see in our society,” she says. “Our results suggest that neighborhood effects are something that we need to tune into in a much more explicit and purposeful way.”


  7. Autism study examines relational factors in music therapy

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Uni Research press release:

    Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to a positive outcome of therapy for children with autism.

    It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may be disrupted due to the level of symptoms interfering with the typical development of emotional and social abilities.

    In a new study, researchers from GAMUT, Uni Research Health and University of Bergen, could show that the quality of the therapeutic relationship predicts generalized changes in social skills in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (ASC).

    This predictor study included 48 children between 4 and 7 years who received improvisational music therapy weekly over a period of 5 months. Outcomes related to the child’s social skills were measured before and after treatment. Based on session videos the researchers assessed the relationship between the child and the therapist.

    Findings of this study show a significant symptom reduction, if a relationship was developed in which the therapist was emotionally and musically attuned to the child’s expressions. Especially an improvement of communication and language skills was associated with the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

    Attunement as mechanism of change

    Attunement processes between humans are particularly described for early interactions between infants and their caregivers. It has been suggested that the caregiver’s capability to attune and synchronize to the infant’s movements, rhythms, and affects influences attachment and the development of social understanding. Within these attuned musical exchanges, the infant experiences being experienced and understood emotionally.

    – In music therapy with children with autism, therapists try to transfer principles from early interaction processes by making music that is specifically tailored to the child’s sounds, movements, postures, and affect. This should allow for moments of synchronization and attunement, Karin Mössler at Uni Research explains. Mössler is the principal investigator of the study.

    Children with childhood autism

    Focusing on musical and emotional attunement might be especially important for children with low functioning childhood autism as it might be specifically powerful when working with sensory processing, affect regulation, or deviations related to the child’s movements all of which can be crucially affected in these children. Even though the primary results of a related study investigating the effects of music therapy with children with autism, do not show that music therapy works better than other therapies, subgroup analysis identified that children with childhood autism or coexisting intellectual disability improve to a greater extend from music therapy than children with another autism diagnosis.

    Stereotypical behavior as resource

    In this sense, special focus should be given to intervention strategies fostering relationship through musical and emotional attunement. These strategies should help therapists but also parents of children with ASC to cope with the child’s symptom level by, for example, using its repetitive or stereotype movements and affective expressions as a resource and starting point for attunement.


  8. Study links afterschool program environments to academic confidence and skills

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Afterschool programs with positive, responsive, and organized environments can have academic benefits for students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    Young people growing up in urban, low-income communities spend significant time in publicly funded afterschool programs. Unlike schools, which grow increasingly segregated and involve more individual instruction as children grow older, afterschool programs are spaces where instructors, often similar to the students in age and background, can facilitate diverse, productive interactions that help youth reach social and academic goals.

    “Because of their unique position at the juncture of school, neighborhood, and home, afterschool programs may be particularly important for youth on a path toward school disengagement or risky behaviors,” said study author Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change.

    Given the potential of afterschool programs to support youth in urban, low-income communities, the researchers examined the role that the afterschool classroom environment plays in terms of academic outcomes for youth with and without social and behavioral difficulties.

    The researchers used data gathered from five afterschool programs run by a single nonprofit. The 256 youth studied, ranging from third through eighth grade, were predominantly Latino and African-American.

    In both the fall and spring, the researchers collected three types of academic outcome measures from youth and staff, including reading skills, youth perceptions of their academic abilities, and academic engagement. They also conducted observations in the fall to measure the extent to which afterschool classrooms were positive, responsive, and organized, looking for factors such as supportive relationships between youth and adults, student engagement in activities, and chaos in the classroom.

    The researchers found that a positive afterschool environment – one with good social dynamics, responsive instruction, and behavior managementpredicted stronger academic skills and youth perceptions of their academic abilities across one year.

    The association between a positive environment and improvement in academic skills was magnified for students with social and behavioral difficulties, while students without these difficulties saw a greater boost in their perceptions of their own academic abilities. No significant link was found between the classroom environment in the fall and students’ academic engagement in the spring; however, in classrooms with more positive environments, youth with social and behavioral problems were more academically engaged.

    “Afterschool classrooms observed to be positive, responsive, and organized had youth with greater academic skill development over the school year. With youth in our study averaging an oral reading fluency below the 30th percentile in national norms, the potential boost may be critical,” Cappella said. “In terms of academic self-concept, one’s confidence as a learner and identity as a student grows increasingly important as children approach and enter early adolescence.”

    The researchers urge the education community to consider the role of afterschool classrooms and instructors in promoting supportive interactions and advancing academic outcomes for at-risk youth during this important transition to adolescence.


  9. Study suggests living close to green spaces is associated with better attention in children

    October 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) press release:

    Natural surroundings, including green spaces, may be beneficial for brain development in children, but evidence is still limited. A previous ISGlobal study already indicated that green spaces within and surrounding schools could enhance cognitive development in children between 7 and 10 years of age. In the current study, the authors expanded on this finding by evaluating the impact of greenness surrounding all the residential addresses of children since birth and characterizing cognitive development at earlier stages in life.

    The analysis, published in Environment Health Perspectives, was based on data from 1,500 children of the INMA — Environment and Childhood Project cohort in Sabadell and Valencia, collected during 2003-2013. The ISGlobal team analysed residential surrounding greenness — at 100, 300 and 500 metres distance- at birth, 4-5 years and 7 years of age. Two types of attention tests were performed at 4-5 and 7 years of age. The research shows that children with higher greenness around their homes had better scores in the attention tests.

    Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, emphasizes “this is the first time that the impact of lifelong residential exposure to green spaces on attention capacity in children has been studied.” These results “underline the importance of green areas in cities for children’s health and brain development,” says Dadvand.

    Jordi Sunyer, study coordinator and head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal, points out that “the possibility that exposure to different types of vegetation might have different impacts on neurodevelopment remains an open question.” Therefore, Sunyer considers further studies should be done in other settings with different climates and vegetation.

    Green spaces in cities promote social connections and physical activity and reduce exposure to air pollution and noise, and are therefore essential for the development of the future generations’ brains” adds the study coordinator.


  10. Study suggests children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Deliberate practice is essential for improving a wide range of skills important for everyday life, from tying shoelaces to reading and writing. Yet despite its importance for developing basic skills, academic success, and expertise, we know little about the development of deliberate practice. A new study from Australia found that children spontaneously practice skills to prepare for the future starting at the age of 6. The study, from researchers at the University of Queensland, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our study contributes to our understanding of how young children start to regulate their own learning to achieve their long-term goals, as well as the development of the cognitive processes that allow people to acquire a range of general skills and highly specialized expertise throughout life,” explains Melissa Brinums, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland who led the study. “It is one of only a small number of studies documenting age-related differences in children’s future-oriented behavior beyond the preschool period.”

    To learn more about young children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice without being prompted, researchers tested 120 children ages 4 to 7 years. Most were from European-Australian, middle- to upper-middle-class families — and the authors caution that more study is needed to examine the influence of social factors (including socioeconomic status) and individual differences on children’s understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice.

    In the study, children in one room were shown three games involving motor skills and told they would be tested on one of them (a target game) later, winning stickers based on their performance. Children were then brought to a different room with replicas of the games they had seen in the first room and told they had five minutes to play before returning to the first room for the test. The researchers anticipated that children who understood that practice could help their future performance would spend more time playing the target game than the other two games. After playing, children were asked which game they played the longest and why, what they could do to improve on the games, and if they could explain what practice is.

    Most 6- and 7-year-olds explained what practice is and knew that it helped improve their skills, and most played the target game longer than the other games and said they did so to practice for the test. Most 5-year-olds showed an understanding of practice and spent slightly longer playing the target game; however, when asked why they had chosen to play that game, the 5-year-olds said they did so for reasons other than practice. Most 4-year-olds did not understand the concept of practice and did not spend more time playing the target game.

    Overall, these findings reveal clear improvements in children’s deliberate practice from ages 4 to 7. These increases in understanding of and engagement in deliberate practice may be due to age-related improvements in cognitive capacities such as episodic foresight, metacognition, and executive functions, the researchers suggest. Episodic foresight, the capacity to envision the future, allows children to foresee the future utility of a skill. Metacognition, the capacity to reflect on and monitor mental states, and executive functions, the cognitive processes that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, play important roles in allowing children to monitor and control their own learning.

    “By providing insight into children’s understanding of practice and the age at which they start to practice for the future with and without prompting, our study may help caregivers and teachers structure age-appropriate learning activities for children,” notes Kana Imuta, a psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, who coauthored the study. “For example, out findings suggest that it may be beneficial to start having conversations with children as young as 6 about their future goals, and encourage them to think about and work toward those goals. A focus on the future may help kids understand why practicing is so important.”