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Pay Attention in Preschool, Graduate From College: Study

Certain social, behavioral skills at young age key to later academic success, researchers found

FRIDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Preschool children who can pay attention and focus on a particular task are 50 percent more likely to graduate from college, according to new research.

Certain social and behavioral skills, such as being able to concentrate and follow directions, may be even more important than children's academic abilities, the Oregon State University study suggests. Fortunately, like typical school subjects, these critical behavioral skills can be taught.

"There is a big push now to teach children early academic skills at the preschool level," study lead author Megan McClelland, an OSU early child development researcher, said in a university news release. "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."

In examining 430 preschoolers, the researchers asked parents to rate their children on several areas, including "plays with a single toy for long periods of time" or "child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered."

Children's reading and math skills were also assessed at the age of 7. The same group of children was retested 14 years later when they were 21 years old.

The study revealed that the children's achievement in reading and math did not significantly predict whether they graduated from college. The researchers noted, however, that children whose parents said they had the strongest attention span and persistence when they were 4 years old were nearly 50 percent more likely to obtain a bachelor's degree by the time they were 25 years old.

"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."

The researchers noted that preschool teachers and parents can step in to help children succeed academically. Specifically, interventions should focus on improving young children's self-control and help them listen better, follow directions and complete tasks.

"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 study was published online Aug. 3 in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics discusses symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity in children.


SOURCE: Oregon State University, news release, Aug. 7, 2012

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