+ Self-Regulation Game Predicts Kindergarten Achievement

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According to Science Daily, researchers who focus on early childhood development have discovered that a simple, five-minute self-regulation game can predict end-of-year achievement  in math, literacy and vocabulary.  

But in addition, it was also associated with the equivalent of several months of additional kindergarten learning.

Claire Ponitz (University of Virginia) and Megan McClelland (Oregon State University) assessed the effectivenees of a game called the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders (HTKS) task.  It’s a new version of the Head-to-Toes task developed by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Both tasks have proved effective at predicting academic skills among preschool children.

Ponitz, McClelland and others assessed a group of 343 kindergartners from Oregon and Michigan.  Their self-regulation, or ability to control behavior, was measured with the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task.  

The structured game required children to perform the opposite of a response to four different oral commands: for example, children were instructed to touch their toes if told to touch their head, and vice versa.

Students who performed well on this behavior task in the fall achieved strong scores in the spring in reading, vocabulary and math, compared to students who had low performance on the task.

In addition, research showed that the children who performed well on the task scored 3.4 months ahead of peers who performed at average levels on mathematics learning.

Says McClelland, “It’s amazing this game works as well as it does.  It is simple to administer, fun for the kids, and predicts children’s academic achievement.” 

Interestingly, one area where the task did not make a difference was interpersonal skills.

McClelland explains the game is not “emotion-oriented,” meaning it is not set up to trigger an emotional response.

Instead, the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task tests children on important classroom-related behavior such as listening, following directions and remembering instructions.

“We know this task predicts end-of-year achievement.” says McClelland.

The results of McClelland’s and Ponitz’s research has been published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

McClelland wants to take the research to the next level.

She is planning to do an extensive evaluation of the task for her next research project, testing an even larger group of children.  She has a number of research projects under way with OSU graduate students as well, including one that uses a variety of fun games to improve a child’s ability to regulate their behavior.

McClelland has made a simple DVD that demonstrates the task, and she has received requests from around the world from researchers who want to use the task with young children.

“The evidence strongly suggests that improving self-regulation is directly related to academic achievement and behavior,” says McClelland. 

“If we can make a difference early in a child’s life, they have that much more of a chance at success.”

Science Daily adapted this from materials provided by Oregon State University.  JS Matthews and Frederick Morrison from the University of Michigan contributed to the research, which was funded by a grant from the Department of Education and National Institute of Child  and Human Development.

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