Psychologists in America say they have found a simple and quick way to test young children's ability to concentrate and follow instructions in class - what they call "self-regulation".
Self-regulation is said to reflect a combination of attention, inhibition and memory skills. It's a useful attribute to measure because it strongly predicts how well young children will do when they start school.
The new "Head-to-Toes" Task requires that children listen to ten instructions, delivered in random order, telling them to either touch their head or their toes. Points are scored for following the instructions correctly.
Other available measures of self-regulation, such as the Tower of London task, are more time consuming and tend to require special equipment.
Claire Ponitz and colleagues administered the new 'Head-to-Toes" Task several times over two years to 445 children aged between three and six years, based at two sites in Michigan and Oregon.
The researchers said their task showed high reliability and validity. In other words, the same child tested twice, with only a short gap between tests, tended to achieve the same score. Scores on the test also correlated with teachers' reports of the children's self-regulation skills.
The strongest influence on children's scores was their age, with older children finding the task easier. There were differences in performance levels between the two testing sites, but these disappeared once the background of the children in the two sites was taken into account - for example based on their parents' level of education.
The researchers concluded that although older children found the task too easy for it to be a useful measure (in its current form), for the younger children, the "Head-to-Toes" Task could serve as a simple and easy-to-administer measure of self-regulation, thus helping identify those children who are likely to have difficulties when they start formal schooling.
CAMERONPONITZ, C., MCCLELLAND, M., JEWKES, A., CONNOR, C., FARRIS, C., MORRISON, F. (2008). Touch your toes! Developing a direct measure of behavioral regulation in early childhood. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(2), 141-158. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2007.01.004
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.