Paying Attention, Persistence are Keys to Academic Success

Kids who could pay attention to teacher instruction and keep at a difficult task the longest were 50% more likely to earn a college degree than their peers.

The best lessons toddlers can learn from their time in preschool is how to concentrate, take directions and keep at a task even if it initially presents difficulties, the Daily Telegraph reports. A recent study out of Oregon State University, which tracked 430 students from pre-school until the age of 21, found that those three skills play the biggest role in the students’ academic success.

Researchers studied children’s behavior both in school and at home. Parents were asked to monitor how the children interacted with a particular toy, while teachers were given a set of projects to assign to their students, and then record which toddlers gave up easily and which ones stuck with the task after encountering difficulties. The findings were published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Researchers determined that students who, as toddlers, tended to stick with the task longer, and learned to pay attention to instructions given by their teachers and parents, were less likely to drop out and more likely to go on higher education. And this is excellent news, because researchers also determined that these qualities are imminently teachable by both parents and teachers.

Many ambitious parents try to introduce maths or classical music or other academic subjects to their children to give them a headstart in life. But they may be better teaching social skills like paying attention, not giving up and how to follow directions, said child development expert Megan McClelland.

She said: “There is a big push now to teach children early academic skills at the pre-school level.

McClelland added that she and her colleagues were surprised to discover that even the levels of mathematics and literacy skills in students didn’t play nearly as big a part in predicting academic success. Instead, it was the refusal to quit a task when it got difficult and learning to pay attention by age 4 that served as the best indicator of high school and college completion. Kids who had the longest attention span and were more persistent were nearly 50% more likely to get a higher education diploma than their more scatterbrained peers.

The pre-school research included seeing how long children would play with a single toy or how easily they would give up when they reached difficulties in a task.

Literacy and maths skills were assessed both as seven year olds and then again as 21-year-old adults. Researchers found that the best predictor of later academic performance was not how well they could read or complete sums at seven but their attention span and persistence levels.

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