1. Study suggests inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

    February 13, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Rutgers University press release:

    When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter — more than we think.

    Those are the findings of Rutgers University psychologists Louis Matzel and Bruno Sauce, based on an integrative review of recent studies on the nature of human intelligence. Their study is published in the December issue of the Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

    “Genetic influences don’t run the show, nor do environmental effects. It’s the genetic-environmental interplay that is the ringmaster,” said Matzel, a professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Sauce is a graduate student in Rutgers’ School of Graduate Studies.

    The study, the researchers say, has significant implications for the way we educate children, whose inherited IQ can increase, especially during early childhood, with the right kind of stimulation and attention.

    “We educate children the hard way in this country,” Matzel said. “We go to impoverished high schools and try to remediate kids, which is a perfectly good thing to do. But it’s often too late; the time to reach those kids is when they start school, while their intelligence is most malleable.”

    Scientists measure the heritability of traits on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0. Eye color has a heritability score of .99, meaning that it’s highly genetic. Intelligence typically rates at .8, Matzel and Sauce said, which means that it, too, is very heritable. However, Matzel and Sauce believe people often underestimate the role of environment.

    “Through interactions and correlations with the environment, genetic influences can be expressed in wildly different ways, and environmental influences are much more powerful than many scientists believe,” Sauce said.

    The researchers said the heritability of IQ can be as low as .3 in young children, which leaves plenty of room for changes in intelligence. But school systems often ignore this opportunity, they believe, focusing on increasing rote knowledge at the expense of critical thinking. Intervention programs then often fail to create lasting changes to children’s environment.

    Consider children who take part in Head Start, the federal program that provides low-income children with comprehensive early childhood education, nutrition and parent-involvement services. Matzel said those children’s IQ scores increase significantly while they’re part of the program, but frequently regress after they leave it — a common criticism of these programs. That, he said, is because the stimulation and encouragement received in Head Start is missing when the child returns to their more restrictive environment.

    Or consider identical twins separated at birth. If their IQs are nearly identical, and they have equal opportunities, they will be equally smart as adults. However, if one is deprived of opportunities, their cognitive abilities will diverge, Matzel said. This highlights the important role that environmental opportunity plays in the establishment of an individual’s intelligence.

    While twins may have the same basic mental equipment with which to face the world, the twin raised in the better environment can thrive while his sibling is thwarted. “The environment is the critical tool that allows our genetic equipment to prosper,” Matzel said.


  2. Study suggests positive attitude toward math predicts math achievement in kids

    February 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University Medical Center press release:

    For the first time, scientists have identified the brain pathway that links a positive attitude toward math to achievement in the subject.

    In a study of elementary school students, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that having a positive attitude about math was connected to better function of the hippocampus, an important memory center in the brain, during performance of arithmetic problems.

    The findings will be published online Jan. 24 in Psychological Science.

    Educators have long observed higher math scores in children who show more interest in math and perceive themselves as being better at it. But it has not been clear if this attitude simply reflects other capacities, such as higher intelligence.

    The new study found that, even once IQ and other confounding factors were accounted for, a positive attitude toward math still predicted which students had stronger math performance.

    ‘Attitude is really important’

    “Attitude is really important,” said Lang Chen, PhD, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ.”

    The scientists had not expected the contribution of attitude to be so large, Chen said. The mechanism underlying its link to cognitive performance was also unexpected.

    “It was really surprising to see that the link works through a very classical learning and memory system in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Researchers had previously hypothesized that the brain’s reward centers might drive the link between attitude and achievement — perhaps children with better attitudes were better at math because they found it more rewarding or motivating. “Instead, we saw that if you have a strong interest and self-perceived ability in math, it results in enhanced memory and more efficient engagement of the brain’s problem-solving capacities,” Menon said.

    The researchers administered standard questionnaires to 240 children ages 7 to 10, assessing demographics, IQ, reading ability and working-memory capacity. The children’s level of math achievement was measured with tests of their knowledge of arithmetic facts and ability to solve math word problems. Parents or guardians answered surveys about the children’s behavioral and emotional characteristics, as well as their anxiety about math and general anxiety. Children also answered a survey that assessed their attitude toward math, including questions about interest in math and self-perceived math ability, as well as their attitude toward academics in general.

    Forty-seven children from the group also participated in MRI brain scans while performing arithmetic problems. Tests were conducted outside the MRI scanner to discern which problem-solving strategies they used. An independent group of 28 children also was given MRI scans and other assessments in an attempt to replicate the findings from the cohort previously given brain scans.

    Opening the door

    Math performance correlated with a positive attitude toward math even after statistically controlling for IQ, working memory, math anxiety, general anxiety and general attitude toward academics, the study found. Children with poor attitudes toward math rarely performed well in the subject, while those with strongly positive attitudes had a range of math achievement.

    A positive attitude opens the door for children to do well but does not guarantee that they will; that depends on other factors as well,” Chen said.

    From the brain-imaging results, the scientists found that, when a child was solving a math problem, his or her positive-attitude scores correlated with activation in the hippocampus, an important memory and learning center in the brain. Activity in the brain’s reward centers, including the amygdala and the ventral striatum, was not linked to a positive attitude toward math. Statistical modeling of the brain imaging results suggested that the hippocampus mediates the link between positive attitude and efficient retrieval of facts from memory, which in turn is associated with better problem solving abilities.

    Having a positive attitude acts directly on your memory and learning system,” Chen said. “I think that’s really important and interesting.”

    The study could not disentangle the extent to which a positive attitude came from a child’s prior success in math. “We think the relationship between positive attitude and math achievement is mutual, bi-directional,” Chen said. “We think it’s like bootstrapping: A good attitude opens the door to high achievement, which means you then have a better attitude, getting you into a good circle of learning. And it can probably go the other way and be a vicious circle, too.”

    The findings may provide a new avenue for improving academic performance and learning in children who are struggling, Menon said, cautioning that this idea still needs to be tested through active interventions.

    “Typically, we focus on skill learning in individual academic domains, but our new work suggests that looking at children’s beliefs about a subject and their self-perceived abilities might provide another inroad to maximizing learning,” Menon said. The findings also offer a potential explanation for how a particularly passionate teacher can nurture students’ interest and learning capacities for a subject, he added. Inspiring teachers may be instinctively sharing their own interest, as well as instilling students in the belief that they can be good at the subject, building a positive attitude even if the student did not have it before.


  3. Study suggests children view people’s behavior, psychological characteristics as shaped by environments

    February 2, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    A new study has found that 5- to 6-year-olds view people’s environments, not their skin color, as the most important determinant of their behavior and psychological characteristics. These findings contradict the idea that views of race that are known to lead to prejudice — such as believing that race naturally divides the world into distinct kinds of people — inevitably develop early in childhood. The study also found that the extent to which children endorsed such beliefs varied by the environments in which they were raised, especially exposure to people of different racial-ethnic backgrounds in their neighborhoods.

    The study, by researchers at New York University (NYU) and the University of Amsterdam, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our findings suggest that beliefs about race develop over time and in response to particular environments,” explains Tara M. Mandalaywala, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU who led the study. “And that these beliefs vary for children of different backgrounds.”

    Researchers looked at 203 Black and White 5- and 6-year-olds living in New York City and 430 Black and White adults from across the United States. They asked respondents about whether they saw skin color as something that could be inherited, and whether they believed that race determines what people will grow up to be like (e.g., how smart, nice, or athletic they will be). Previous research has not assessed young children’s beliefs about the extent to which race determines a person’s behavioral and psychological characteristics. The study also measured the demographic composition of children’s neighborhoods.

    The researchers found that children viewed skin color as something that could be inherited, but did not endorse the types of beliefs that contribute to stereotyping and prejudice in adults: They expected that a person’s behavioral and psychological properties would be determined by the environment in which he or she was raised, not by inherited race.

    Children’s beliefs about race depended on their exposure to diversity. In particular, children who lived in racially homogeneous neighborhoods held stronger beliefs that race determined behavior than children in more diverse neighborhoods, suggesting that such beliefs are shaped by the environment.

    “Our research suggests that beliefs about race that contribute to prejudice take a long time to develop — when they do — and that their development depends to some extent on the neighborhoods in which children grow up,” says Marjorie Rhodes, professor of psychology at NYU, who coauthored the study. “An important question our study raises is whether such attitudes in children are responsive to exposure to diversity in child care and school settings as well as to diversity in neighborhood environments.”

    The National Institutes of Health funded the study.


  4. Study finds students more engaged and attentive following outdoor lesson in nature

    January 27, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A study recently published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology has found that 9-10 year-old children are significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork following an outdoor lesson in nature. Strikingly, this “nature effect” allowed teachers to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long during a subsequent indoor lesson. The results suggest that outdoor lessons may be an inexpensive and convenient way to improve student engagement — a major factor in academic achievement.

    Scientists have known for a while that natural outdoor environments can have a variety of beneficial effects on people. People exposed to parks, trees or wildlife can experience benefits such as physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation. In children, studies have shown that even a view of greenery through a classroom window could have positive effects on students’ attention.

    However, many teachers may be reluctant to hold a lesson outdoors, as they might worry that it could overexcite the children, making it difficult for them to concentrate on their schoolwork back in the classroom. Ming Kuo, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her colleagues set out to investigate this, and hypothesized that an outdoor lesson in nature would result in increased classroom engagement in indoor lessons held immediately afterwards.

    “We wanted to see if we could put the nature effect to work in a school setting,” says Kuo. “If you took a bunch of squirmy third-graders outdoors for lessons, would they show a benefit of having a lesson in nature, or would they just be bouncing off the walls afterward?”

    The researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school in the Midwestern United States. Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom, and another, more skeptical teacher did the same. Their outdoor “classroom” was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.

    After each outdoor or indoor lesson, the researchers measured how engaged the students were. They counted the number of times the teacher needed to redirect the attention of distracted students back to their schoolwork during the observation, using phrases such as “sit down” and “you need to be working.” The research team also asked an outside observer to look at photos taken of the class during the observation period and score the level of class engagement, without knowing whether the photos were taken after an indoor or outdoor lesson. The teachers also scored class engagement.

    The team’s results show that children were more engaged after the outdoor lessons in nature. Far from being overexcited and inattentive immediately after an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork. The number of times the teacher had to redirect a student’s attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

    “Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson,” says Kuo, “and we saw the nature effect with our skeptical teacher as well.”

    The researchers plan to do further work to see if the technique can work in other schools and for less experienced teachers. If so, regular outdoor lessons could be an inexpensive and convenient way for schools to enhance student engagement and performance. “We’re excited to discover a way to teach students and refresh their minds for the next lesson at the same time,” says Kuo. “Teachers can have their cake and eat it too.”


  5. Study suggests children can quickly learn routes

    January 22, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research from the University of Liverpool suggests that children as young as eight can learn a route after only a single experience of it.

    Wayfinding is the ability to learn and recall a route through an environment. Theories of wayfinding suggest that for adult and children to learn a route successfully, they must have repeated experience of it.

    Researchers from the University’s School of Psychology, led by Dr Jamie Lingwood, conducted an experiment to investigate whether children could learn a route after only a single experience of the route.

    Virtual mazes

    A total of 80 participants from the United Kingdom in four groups of 20 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and adults were shown a route through a 12-turn maze in a virtual environment. At each junction, there was a unique object that could be used as a landmark.

    Participants were “walked” along the route just once (without any verbal prompts) and then were asked to retrace the route from the start without any help.

    Nearly three quarters of the 12-year-olds, half of the 10-year-olds, and a third of the 8-year-olds retraced the route without any errors the first time they travelled it on their own.

    The research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    Implications

    Dr Lingwood, said: “The findings of our study suggest that many young children can learn routes, even with as many as 12 turns, very quickly and without the need for repeated experience.

    “Our research has implications for previous theories of wayfinding that emphasize the need for extensive experience.”


  6. Study suggests girls’ social camouflage skills may delay or prevent autism diagnosis

    January 17, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Children’s National Health System press release:

    On parent-reporting measures, girls with autism seem to struggle more than boys with performing routine tasks like getting up and dressed or making small talk, even when the study group is normalized to meet similar basic clinical diagnostic criteria across sexes. The findings add to the growing evidence that girls with autism may show symptoms differently than boys, and that some of the social difficulties experienced by females with autism may be masked during clinical assessments.

    The new study, led by researchers from the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National Health System, was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

    “Based on our research criteria, parents report that the girls in our study with autism seem to have a more difficult time with day-to-day skills than the boys,” says Allison Ratto, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a clinical psychologist within the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National. “This could mean that girls who meet the same clinical criteria as boys actually are more severely affected by ongoing social and adaptive skill deficits that we don’t capture in current clinical measures, and that autistic girls, in general, may be camouflaging these types of autism deficits during direct assessments.”

    The study used an age-and IQ-matched sample of school-aged youth diagnosed with ASD to assess sex differences according to the standard clinical tests including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), as well as parent reported autistic traits and adaptive skills.

    “This study is one of the first to eliminate many of the variables that obscure how sex impacts presentation of autism traits and symptoms. Though today’s clinical tools do a really good job capturing boys at a young age, with a wide range of symptom severity, they do it less effectively for girls,” adds Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, and another study contributor. “This is a crucial issue considering how much we know about the success of early interventions on long-term outcomes. We have to find better ways to identify girls with autism so we can ensure the best approaches reach all who need them as early as possible.”

    Specific evidence of women more effectively masking or camouflaging social and communication deficits is limited, but autistic self-advocates theorize that the unique social pressures and demands on girls at a young age may teach them to “blend in” and “get by,” including maintaining successful, brief social interactions.

    As a research partner of an $11.7 million Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) grant from the National Institutes of Health to the George Washington University Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders Institute, the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National will continue investigations into sex differences, and aims to develop self-reporting measures for adolescents and adults that better capture additional populations — including females and non-cisgender males.

    “We hope the ACE studies will help us better understand the diversity of the autism spectrum by allowing us to focus on the ways in which differences in sex and gender identity might influence the expression of autistic traits, thereby enabling us to make more accurate diagnoses,” Dr. Ratto concludes.


  7. Study suggests children’s perception of gender appropriate colors is affected by gender labels

    January 14, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    Two researchers from the University of Hong Kong suggest that toymakers and parents avoid gender-labelling toys, remove colour divides, and manufacture toys for both boys and girls in a wide range of colours. Sui Ping Yeung and Wang Ivy Wong’s study is published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles, and shows how easily preschoolers’ ideas about what is appropriate for their gender is manipulated. Their study is also the first to show that a boy’s preference for blue and a girl’s liking of pink is not just a Western construct, but is also a phenomenon in urban Asian societies.

    The researchers recruited 129 preschool Chinese children aged between five and seven from two kindergartens in Hong Kong. First the researchers assessed the children’s preference for pink versus blue by showing them cards and toys in these colours. Then the children were presented with yellow and green cards and toys. They were randomly divided into so-called label and no-label groups.

    Children in the no-label group were presented with coloured cards and toys which had no reference to a specific gender and these children consequently expressed no preference for a specific colour. However, preschoolers in the label group were told that yellow was a girl’s colour and green a boys’ colour, and corresponding gender differences emerged in the choices they made.

    Apart from randomly assigning children to these two groups, the children’s pre-existing preferences for yellow and green were statistically controlled, so the resulting difference between the groups speaks strongly to a causal effect of the gender labels.

    According to the researchers, the gender differences between preferred colours in children is noteworthy because it is so much more prominent than most other psychological differences between the sexes.

    “Our findings support the notion that gender-typed liking for pink versus blue is a particularly salient gender difference,” explains Yeung. “Moreover, our findings reveal that gender differences could be created merely by applying gender labels.”

    “By applying gender labels, not only concrete materials such as toys could become gender-typed, but also abstract qualities such as colours, with children increasing or decreasing their likings for particular colours based on the gender labels available in their social environment,” Wong says.

    The findings support previous research that highlighted the strong influence that gender labels such as “for boys” or “for girls” might have. Further, the observations are in line with gender schema theory that says that once children have learnt a specific gender identity, their behaviour will be guided by the standards set as being appropriate for their specific sex. These will guide them later in life on how they interact and adapt to their surroundings, for instance, when taking on chores around the house, such as cooking, cleaning or repairing things.

    Wong also commented on the cultural angle of this study: “Many gender differences and stereotypes in developed Asian regions resemble those in the West, which is not surprising given the high degree of Westernization and the prevalence of gender colour-coding typical of Western cultures in Hong Kong.”

    The study also goes beyond investigating why boys and girls prefer different colours. The researchers also tested whether using gender-coded colours in toys affects how well children play. The children were given yellow and green puzzles to play with. Whether the puzzles were in the gender appropriate or gender inappropriate colour did not make a difference in the children’s puzzle performance.

    However, the researchers caution against using this finding to support the use of gender-coded colours to increase sales. The results showed that boys and girls performed equally well but if they had been exposed to gender labels, regardless of whether they received the gender appropriate or gender inappropriate coloured puzzles, a gender difference emerged, with boys outperforming girls.


  8. Study suggests quality of contact with grandparents is key to youths’ views of ageism

    January 7, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Ageism — stereotypes that lead to prejudice and discrimination against older people — occurs frequently in young adults and can be seen in children as young as 3. A new study from Belgium sought to identify the factors underlying this form of discrimination. It found that ageist stereotypes in children and adolescents generally decrease around ages 10 to 12, and that young people who say they have very good contact with their grandparents have the lowest levels of ageism.

    The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium, appears in the journal Child Development.

    “The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” explains Allison Flamion, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Liege, who led the research team. “We asked children to describe how they felt about seeing their grandparents. Those who felt unhappy were designated as having poor quality of contact. When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”

    To assess aspects of ageism, the researchers studied 1,151 children and adolescents ages 7 to 16 in the French-speaking part of Belgium; the youths were primarily White, from urban and rural areas, and from a range of socioeconomic statuses. In questionnaires, the researchers asked the youths their thoughts on getting old and about the elderly. They also collected information about the health of the youths’ grandparents, how often the two generations met, and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents.

    In general, views on the elderly expressed by the children and adolescents were neutral or positive. Girls had slightly more positive views than boys; girls also tended to view their own aging more favorably, the researchers note.

    Ageist stereotypes fluctuated with the ages of the youths studied, with 7- to 9-year-olds expressing the most prejudice and 10- to 12-year-olds expressing the least, the study found. This finding mirrors other forms of discrimination (e.g., those related to ethnicity or gender) and is in line with cognitive-developmental theories: For example, acquiring perspective-taking skills around age 10 reduces previous stereotypes. With ageism, prejudice seemed to reappear when the participants in this study reached their teen years: 13- to 16-year-olds also had high levels of ageism.

    Grandparents’ health was also a factor in youths’ views on ageism: Young people with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than youths with grandparents in better health.

    The most important factor influencing youths’ views of the elderly was the quality of their contact with their grandparents. The study characterized youths’ contact as good or very good when they said they felt happy or very happy (respectively) when they saw and shared with their grandparents. Those who described their contact with grandparents as good or very good had more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively. Furthermore, the benefit of meaningful contact occurred in both children with the lowest level of ageism and those with the highest level, and boys seemed to benefit more than girls from high-quality contact.

    Frequency of contact, while mattering considerably less, also played a role: 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week had the most favorable views toward the elderly, likely because of the multiplying effect of frequency with quality, the researchers suggest.

    “For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” notes Stephane Adam, professor of psychology at the University of Liege, who coauthored the study. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”


  9. Study suggests exercising at own pace boosts a child’s ability to learn

    January 6, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Stirling press release:

    A child’s attention and memory improves after exercise according to new research conducted with primary school pupils and supported by the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh.

    Researchers found that pupils’ best responses to tests came after physical activity that was set at their own pace, as opposed to exhaustive exercise.

    The study is part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific campaign — designed to inspire schoolchildren to pursue a career in science — and part-funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.

    In the sixth investigation of the series, more than 11,000 school pupils across the UK conducted a scientific investigation to discover the impact of taking a short break from the classroom to complete a physical activity on their mood and cognitive abilities.

    The study was jointly led by Dr Colin Moran and Dr Naomi Brooks, of the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr Josie Booth of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education.

    Dr Brooks explained: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate.

    “Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory — enhancing their ability to learn.”

    A total of 11,613 children in the UK signed up to participate in the research — including 1,536 from Scotland — and they were asked to answer questions about how happy and awake they were feeling, before completing attention and memory tasks on a computer. Children completed the tasks both before and after they participated in each of three outdoor activities of varying intensities:

    · A bleep test: This was the most intense activity, where the children ran in time with bleeps, which got gradually quicker, until they felt close to exhaustion.

    · A run/walk activity: This was of intermediate intensity where the children ran or walked at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes.

    · A control activity: This was the least intense activity where the children went outside to sit or stand for 15 minutes. This was used to compare whether physical activity had a greater impact than simply going outside.

    In total, more than 7,300 children provided information on at least one of the key measurements, related to mood and cognition, and participants completed 22,349 batches of computer tasks.

    Compared to the control, children reported feeling more awake after taking a break and doing exercise for a short time. Both the bleep test and the run/walk made participants feel more awake than the control activity, although they felt most awake after the run/walk.

    The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk but reported no difference in the way they felt after completing the bleep test, compared to the control activity.

    Children responded quicker to the attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities, and were better at controlling their responses after doing the run/walk and bleep test than they were after the control activity.


  10. Study suggests intervention offered in school readiness program boosts children’s self-regulation skills

    December 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Adding a daily 20 to 30 minute self-regulation intervention to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted children’s self-regulation and early academic skills, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    Self-regulation skills — the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty — are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond. The intervention, co-developed and tested by OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally-recognized expert in child development, uses music and games to help preschoolers learn and practice self-regulation skills.

    The intervention was added to a three-week summer school readiness program at a large school district on the East Coast for children entering kindergarten that had no prior preschool experience. The school district asked McClelland and her colleagues to evaluate their use of the intervention. It was the first opportunity for researchers to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in a “real-world” setting, where teachers, rather than researchers, led the students through self-regulation games.

    The researchers found that use of these games daily for three weeks improved the children’s self-regulation skills. They also found that the children’s broader school readiness skills, including early math and literacy skills, improved as a result of the intervention and the children saw greater-than-expected growth in the months following the program.

    “It was a test to see if the results of this intervention look similar in a less-controlled environment, and it appears that they do,” said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “It helps demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of this kind of program.”

    The findings add to McClelland’s growing body of research demonstrating the value of teaching self-regulation skills to children entering kindergarten, particularly those who are at higher risk of struggling academically in school and opens the door for the intervention to be used more widely by teachers and schools.

    The evaluation of the school district program was published recently in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Co-authors are Robert J. Duncan and Sara A. Schmitt of Purdue University and Maura Burke of Fairfax County Public Schools. Duncan and Schmitt both earned their doctorates at OSU.

    The school district added the self-regulation intervention at some schools participating in a summer “Bridge to Kindergarten” in 2013. It was also offered in 2014 and 2015. Researchers evaluated data from about 150 children from each year.

    “The school district wanted an explicit focus on self-regulation in this program designed to get children ready for kindergarten,” McClelland said.

    Teachers were trained to lead the children through the intervention, which uses movement and music-based games that increase in complexity over time and encourage the practice of self-regulation skills. The games require few materials and the children can help make the props as part of their lessons.

    One game is “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” The instructor acts as a stoplight and holds up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switch to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.

    Other games include “Freeze,” where the children are encouraged to do the opposite of the teacher’s instructions; and “Sleeping,” where the children pretend to sleep and then wake up as something different and must remain in that character.

    Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

    “The findings from this evaluation support our previous randomized controlled studies of this program, which is a promising sign that the intervention will also be effective in practical applications,” McClelland said. “If we can make the program more accessible to schools and teachers, and still ensure quality, it becomes more feasible to share it more widely.”