Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the Society for Research and Development’s biennial meeting, where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Self control. Attention. Focus. These foundational skills make up a key area of early childhood development: Self-regulation. So what can teachers, parents, caregivers –even children themselves – do to help those skills grow? Oregon State University Professor Megan McClelland explains the science and the practical things we all can do. Filmed for Early Learning Nation’s Mobile Studio at the Society for Research in Child Development’s biennial meeting in Baltimore, MD, on March 22, 2019. #SRCD19
Chris Riback: Megan, thank you for coming by
Megan McClelland: Hi.
Chris Riback: Hi. Thanks for coming to the ELN studio.
Megan McClelland: Great. Thanks for having me.
Chris Riback: We appreciate your time.
Megan McClelland: It’s fun.
Chris Riback: What is self-regulation? And, how important is it with preschool children, particularly in determining their ability to move into and succeed in kindergarten?
Megan McClelland: Self-regulation is a set of foundational skills that are your self-control, how well you can pay attention and focus, remember instructions, to do well working with others. It’s this ability to focus your attention and pay attention and do well, persist on tasks.
Megan McClelland: Kids, when they’re three, don’t have this very well. But when they get into kindergarten, it’s increasingly important for them to have those skills because it helps them do better.
Chris Riback: Is this something learned or does a child have it?
Megan McClelland: Sure. Some kids are born a lot more easy to sooth, they are not very reactive, and they’re more calm, cautious children, and they have self-regulation more easily than other kids. They don’t get upset easily by new things.
Megan McClelland: Other kids may take a while to adjust to new things. They may be more reactive. They may be more active. Some kids have more activity, so they may need a little bit of help learning how to harness their activity in positive ways, in ways that will help them do better.
Chris Riback: One of the areas of research for you has been the social and emotional learning, the SEL interventions.
Megan McClelland: Yes.
Chris Riback: What do they actually look like?
Megan McClelland: A lot of those interventions help build these foundational skills for kids. Like helping parents scaffold those skills for young kids. Can they help them listen and focus their attention? Can they help them work well with other kids?
Megan McClelland: We have been working on a set of intervention games that are based in music and movement, but they’re cognitively complex and so they’re fun for kids to do. Like red light, green light kinds of games, but they’re actually pretty challenging. They’re cognitively complex, so they get harder over time. Kids have to stop and think about what they have to do, and then they might have to do the opposite.
Megan McClelland: We might ask the kids to dance when the music is going and stop when it stops. Then we might say, okay, now I want you to dance fast to fast music and slow to slow music. Then we might say, okay, now I want you to reverse.
Megan McClelland: We’re just adding in new rules to help them pay attention, focus, maybe do the opposite, which is actually quite important for self-control.
Chris Riback: What’s your point of entry with the teachers and into the schools?
Megan McClelland: We go directly and in just a few hours, actually, we can work with teachers directly.
Chris Riback: Wow.
Megan McClelland: We just were training some teachers in New Zealand and we did that remotely. We actually also have an online course and they can get trained on these games. There’s lots of different ways to try and get this information out there.
Chris Riback: Is that the app that’s available to parents and teachers, or is that something else?
Megan McClelland: That’s different.
Chris Riback: Tell me the app because I read about that.
Megan McClelland: But we also have-
Chris Riback: Yes.
Megan McClelland: Yes, is a way to … One of the real goals for me, as a researcher and parent is, how do we get science and science based information that is grounded in evidence out there in ways that people can use, that is easy for them to do.
Megan McClelland: We have received funding to develop an app of these games and try them with parents. How do we make this scalable in the sense that we can get this information out there and the kids like doing it so they’re more motivated, they ask their parents for these games. There’s music cues in there, so if you don’t sing very well you’re going to play the music. But it’s still a way for you to engage with your kids.
Chris Riback: Does it provide you back measurable data or anything that you can integrate into your own research?
Megan McClelland: Yes. Absolutely. That’s part of some work that we’ve been doing for the last year and a half, couple of years, where we are working with parents directly, and teachers, to give us some feedback about, is this working? Is it not working? Is this way to continue to improve things.
Chris Riback: Preparing for this conversation, I saw a piece, I think it was from 2016 that began, “Adding a daily 20- to 30-minute self-regulation intervention to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted children’s self-regulation and early academic skills, Megan McClelland has found.”
Megan McClelland: We know that these interventions can be effective. We know that we have been specific and targeted in the skills that we’re trying to improve. I think that we’re trying to make it fun and engaging for kids so that they’re doing it well and they’re continuing to improve on them over time. And we do find some significant impacts in terms of their improved, not just self-regulation, but also improved math, especially, math skills, that you wouldn’t necessarily expect because our intervention hasn’t focused directly on math. But those same skills are quite important for you to do well in math.
Chris Riback: Perhaps opens up a whole new vein of research for you.
Megan McClelland: It is. It is. Actually, it has been.
Chris Riback: I imagine so. Megan, thank you. Thank you for your work. Thank you for coming by the studio.
Megan McClelland: Thanks. It’s been great.