Ready or not

An innovative predictor of school readiness shows that self-regulation tools are valuable forecasters of life success.

Megan McClelland administers the Head-to-Toes Task to Avi Hadlock at OSU’s Child Development Center

Parents today want to be sure their preschoolers are ready for school, so they’re teaching them numbers, colors, and even how to read. Megan McClelland suggests they put away the flash cards and focus on helping their kids navigate everyday life — learning how to cooperate, share, take turns, and control their behavior. “These self-regulation skills are good predictors of later success in a variety of academic subjects,” says Megan, associate professor in human development and family sciences. “Results of our research here at OSU and in Taiwan, China, and South Korea are showing similar outcomes. When we teach and reinforce self-‚Ȇregulation first, academic achievement follows.” Thus, by using both academic and self-regulation measures, parents and teachers can give children the best chance of academic and life success.

So how do you measure self-regulation? Well, remember the head-shoulders-knees-and-toes game you played when you were little? It turns out that a similar exercise of repetition, order, and memory is an accurate predictor of school readiness in young children, more so than the traditional count to ten, tie your shoes, and vocabulary tests. “The Head-to-Toes Task takes five minutes, it’s ecologically valid, and kids enjoy it,” says Megan. “We measure their ability to pay attention, remember rules, and follow directions — it requires self-control. If children show a lack of self-regulation in the game, we can create interventions and incorporate practices into curricula that emphasize these skills. And we can work with parents to reinforce the lessons at home to help their child navigate the world.” Her research on the Head-to-Toes Task appeared in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly earlier this year.

Megan, who has been studying this field for ten years, explains that the test can predict improvements in reading, math, and vocabulary up to middle school. Preliminary data show self-regulation measures can even predict college completion. Megan and her doctoral student Shannon Wanless recently presented “Touching your toes in four cultures” at the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development conference in Germany. Their goal is to standardize the test for use in the U.S. and translate it for South Korea, Taiwan, and China. “The Head-to-Toes Task is a contextual, valid, reliable predictor that works across cultures and socioeconomic groups, and we’re eager to get it into preschools so children can get the right start at the right time.”

Teachers, parents and practitioners are welcome to contact Megan McClelland.