How to Better Prepare Children for Formal Education?

By: Inas Essa

Good preparation plays a key role in the final results of almost every aspect of our lives; before an exam, interview, meeting, etc. Although these seem to be all related to adults, preschool children's preparation for school seems to be of high importance as well; it predicts their future engagement and success in class.

Preschool years do not have to be stuffed with information or be so busy with activities for children that they become unable to enjoy them. Still, learning some social skills and vocabulary through informal learning could generate better results in academic years—according to a new study published in Early Education and Development journal.

Essential Requirements for Better Academic Performance

Previous research has highlighted the role of a child’s vocabulary skills during preschool years for later academic success. That is in addition to the inhibitory control related to the ability to control the natural human response to distractions or a certain stimulus and be more focused on achieving goals or tasks.

Researchers of the recent study have investigated how children with good vocabulary and attention skills do better in class. They performed the research on about 900 four-year-olds—including 443 girls and 452 boys—from eight US states, showing very promising results. To reach comprehensive results, the researchers assessed the children when they started preschool in the fall and again in the following spring.

The team used several measures to calculate skill levels; for inhibitory control, the researchers used the pencil tap test in which the child was instructed to tap once when the assessor tapped twice and vice versa. For the vocabulary test, children were asked to name objects in pictures. Moreover, to test the classroom engagement level with teachers and peers, the assessors spent about four hours observing each child individually. They monitored positive classroom engagement, including sociability, communication, and self-reliance with tasks, and the negative, which included conflict with teachers and peers, as well as off-task behaviors.

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Good Preparation Generates Better Engagement

The results have shown that good preparation, which includes stronger vocabulary skills and good inhibitory skills, predicts better engagement in the classroom with teachers and peers, helping students suppress inappropriate behavior and better deal with distracting thoughts and feelings. Additionally, these children had more positive engagement with tasks and less negative interaction in the classroom.

On the other hand, the study suggests that negative engagement in the classroom negatively affects further vocabulary learning. These results are extremely important to highlight how a small change in children’s skills and experiences early on can improve or impair their chance of academic success long-term. That is in addition to training teachers to early identify these issues and provide children the required support to help them thrive.

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“Children with lower inhibitory control and vocabulary skills appear to be at risk of displaying different kinds of non-engaging behaviors,” says lead author Qingqing Yang from Ohio State University, Columbus, US. She adds: “This suggests that teachers need to be able to recognize who may be susceptible to more negative engagement. They also need to facilitate classroom engagement for all children”.