SELF-REGULATION HELPS AT RISK CHILDREN
Teaching children to pay attention and persevere is more important than reading ability for future achievement, according to US research
Professor Megan McCelland of Oregon State University says that evidence demonstrates that self-regulation in children is important for academic success from pre-school through college (Blair & Razza, 2007; Duncan et al., 2007; McClelland et al., 2007; Vitaro et al., 2005).
In a recent study, children with strong attention at age 4 had 51% greater odds of completing college by age 25 (McClelland, Piccinin, & Stallings, under review). Similar relations have also been found cross-culturally with young children from Asian (Wanless et al.,) and European countries . Accumulating research suggests that self-regulation is an important compensatory factor for children experiencing early risk. Risk factors such as poverty and ethnic minority status are related to lower self-regulation and achievement in young children.
The key finding is that ‘Regardless of the presence of a risk factor, children with stronger self-regulation had stronger achievement than children with weaker self-regulation.’ So strengthening self-regulation is likely to be an effective way to help at-risk children to be successful in school.
So, what exactly is self-regulation, you may ask? Its about self-discipline, paying attention, perseverance and sticking to tasks.
This research suggests that introducing a young child to maths or classical music actually has much less bearing on their future educational achievements than instilling the values of attention and perseverance.
The research finds that children who were better at listening, following instructions and completing a task at the age of four were 50 per cent more likely to have complete an undergraduate university degree by the age of 25. In short, rather than paying for expensive private lessons, parents would be better off teaching their offspring skills like concentration and persistence. Contrary to researchers’ expectations they found that maths and reading ability did not have a significant effect on whether or not students gained a bachelor’s degree from university.
Dr Megan McClelland, who led the study, said: “The important factor was being able to focus and persist. Someone can be brilliant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can focus when they need to and finish a task or job. “Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important … the ability to listen, pay attention and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life.”
So what can be done? Among other things we should develop tools that accurately screen children for early interventions.