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A universal desire to see children succeed

Megan McClelland

“Teachers around the world are eager for good tools that will predict school readiness,” says Megan McClelland, associate professor in human development and family sciences who has been working on this issue for more than 10 years. “Our desire for kids to succeed in school is universal.”

Megan and colleagues from University of Michigan and the University of Virginia created the Head to Toes Task for preschoolers eight years ago and have been testing it in schools in the U.S., Asia, Europe and South America.  Her research on school readiness for kindergartners has been widely published and Megan has gained a following that reaches across the country and around the world and brings regular requests to use the Head to Toes Task. She has helped build collaborations among teachers and researchers in Canada, Iceland, Germany, France, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Portugal and the Head to Toes Task has been translated into eight languages. Now, with a $1.6 million grant from the US Department of Education, Megan is leading a team of researchers at OSU to refine the tool and make it available for use across cultures.

“I feel like a connector…I love getting emails from researchers and educators in other countries who want to use the tool and find out more about assessing self regulation skills of children to help them succeed,” says Megan who travels to Europe and Asia meeting colleagues to advocate for a focus on school readiness.

The ability for children to control their own behavior has proven to be a strong predictor of academic success in the early years and even into college.

The simple five-minute task that measures self-regulation – the ability for children to control their own behavior – has proven to be a strong predictor of academic success in the early years and even into college. The test requires children to perform the opposite of a response to four different oral instructions. For example, if the instruction is for the child to touch her toes, she is to touch her head.

It may seem obvious that children who can settle down, listen to instructions, think about them and then act on them will do better in school than those who can’t.  But Megan believes that we have lost sight of that basic lesson. 

“We haven’t been focusing on the importance of working hard and paying attention. We live in a society where things are made easy and kids aren’t in situations where they have to practice self-regulation.”  The tool, she says will enable teachers to identify and help children who need more practice with self-regulation practice before they move on to kindergarten.

“Schools and teachers are desperate for tools that predict readiness for kindergarten,” says Megan who receives regular requests from school districts around the country.  “Right now, there are very few measures that can determine if a child is ready for kindergarten. This will give teachers the standardized tools and data they need to make more a more informed decision about each child.”

Megan is well-known in the college for including graduate and undergraduate students, who say they are lucky to be part of Megan’s research team. Currently, there are six graduates and eight undergraduate students working with her.  This fall, two graduate students and eight undergraduates will work on an intervention study using the Head to Toes Task in a Head Start program in the Salem-Keizer School District.

“Megan is passionate about young children’s self-regulation and school readiness,” says Megan Pratt, a graduate research assistant. “This is clear in her dedication to this research and commitment to all of her students.  She has helped me understand the importance of attending to the numerous details involved in the research process.  Our attention to detail is crucial as we coordinate our research efforts with the busy teachers in the preschool and kindergarten classrooms.” Megan surely speaks for all of the student researchers when she says “We all enjoy working with the kids and are dedicated to helping young children be ready to enter school!”

Related links:

Megan McClelland presents at program launch of Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families

Megan McClelland’s research highlighted

Fulbright scholar’s research in Taiwan