Early predictors of attention and engaged leaning in elementary school
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Cognitive self-regulation, or the ability to direct one’s attention and actively participate in learning, is a valuable asset because it promotes successful adjustment across the lifespan. Although cross-sectional studies have provided some information about the stability and change in cognitive self-regulation from early childhood through the elementary school years (ages 3-12), less is known about the other child characteristics that influence its development. This study is designed to examine multiple dimensions of preschool skills in relation to children’s attention and engaged learning across the elementary school years. Rich longitudinal data are used from a sample of 1,364 typically developing children from across the U.S. who participated in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Variation in preschool attentional skills, social behavior, and early academic skills was used to predict average level and rate of change in attention, planning, work habits, and classroom engagement from first through sixth grades. Results indicate that high levels of teacher-rated attention problems in the fall of kindergarten are consistently related to lower levels of attention and engaged learning in elementary school. High scores on kindergarten teacher-rated internalizing problems and social skills are linked with high attention and classroom work habits according to elementary school teachers. Finally, early academic skills (particularly oral language skills) are associated with high performance on the Tower of Hanoi planning task and high observed classroom engagement. These results suggest that programs designed to promote school readiness would be remiss in emphasizing early academic skills to the detriment of addressing children’s attention problems and social behavior.