Young children who are able to pay attention and stick with a task have a 50 percent greater chance of completing college, according to a new study at Oregon State University.
The study, which tracks a group of 430 preschool-age children, shows that social and behavioral skills, such as paying attention, following directions and completing a task, may be more important than academic abilities.
The good news, according to researchers, is that these skills can be taught.
“There is a big push now to teach children early academic skills at the preschool level,” said Megan McClelland, Ph.D., an OSU early childhood development researcher and lead author of the study.
“Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn’t math or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age 4.”
Parents were asked to rate their children on items such as “plays with a single toy for long periods of time” or “child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered.” Reading and math skills were assessed at age 7 using standardized assessments. At age 21, the same group was tested again for reading and math skills.
Researchers found that children who were rated higher by their parents on attention span and persistence at age 4 had nearly 50 percent greater odds of getting a bachelor’s degree by age 25.
“We didn’t look at how well they did in college or at grade point average,” McClelland 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.”
McClelland noted interventions aimed at increasing young children’s self-control abilities have repeatedly been shown to help boost “self-regulation,” or a child’s ability to listen, pay attention, follow through on a task and remember instructions.
In a past study, McClelland found that simple classroom games such as Simon Says and Red Light/Green Light have been effective in increasing both literacy and self-regulation skills.
“Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important,” McClelland said. “Increasingly, we see that the ability to listen, pay attention, and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life.”
The results were published online in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
Source: Oregon State University