An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.
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, said OSU’s Dr. Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.
“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties – those difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” Dr. McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”
The results of the new study are notable because positive effects of an intervention, especially one that aims to improve self-regulation and academic achievement, can be difficult for researchers to find, said Dr. McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
The intervention was most effective among children who are considered at highest risk for struggling in school – those from low-income backgrounds who are learning English as a second language. In addition to a positive effect on self-regulation, the intervention had a positive effect on math achievement for English language learners.
“The math gain was huge,” Dr. McClelland said. “English language learners who were randomly assigned to the intervention showed a one-year gain in six months. This was in spite of the fact that we had no math content in these games.”
That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, Dr. McClelland said. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.
The study was published recently in “Early Childhood Research Quarterly.” Lead author Sara A. Schmitt conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU and now is an assistant professor at Purdue University. In addition to Dr. McClelland, the other authors of the study are Dr. Alan C. Acock of Oregon State and Dr. Shauna L. Tominey of Yale University.