Pre-K Program Can Boost Kids’ Self-Regulation Skills

A new study shows that pre-kindergarten children who participate in a short, daily intervention designed to improve self-regulation skills improve not only these types of skills but also early academic skills.

Self-regulation skills are those that help a child pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty. These skills are vital to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond.

The new findings add to the growing body of research demonstrating the value of teaching self-regulation skills to children entering kindergarten, particularly for those who are considered high-risk for academic struggles. The results also open the door for the intervention to be used more widely by teachers and schools.

The intervention, co-developed and tested by child development expert Dr. Megan McClelland from Oregon State University (OSU) uses music and games to help preschoolers learn and practice self-regulation skills.

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

The intervention was added to a three-week summer school readiness program at a large school district designed for children entering kindergarten with no previous school experience.

The school district asked McClelland and her colleagues to monitor the intervention in action. 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 intervention was shown to improve children’s self-regulation skills when used daily for three weeks. The researchers found that the children’s broader school readiness skills, including early math and literacy skills, also improved as a result of the intervention and the children experienced 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.”

During the intervention, teachers led children through movement and music-based games designed to 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 they played is “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” The teacher 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.

Another game is called “Freeze,” where the children are encouraged to do the opposite of the teacher’s instructions. In the game “Sleeping,” the children pretend to sleep and then wake up as something different and must remain in that character.

“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,” said McClelland.

“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.”

The evaluation of the school district program was published recently in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Source: Oregon State University

Posted by Patricia Adams