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Dr. Megan McClelland, Oregon State University – Preschoolers, Attention, and Academic Success

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Megan McClelland of Oregon State University explains what a preschooler’s ability to pay attention reveals about their odds of future academic success.

Megan McClelland is an associate professor of human development and family science at the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at Oregon State University. Her research is focused on optimizing children's development, especially as it relates to early social and cognitive development and education outcomes. Her work has been widely published and she holds a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago.

About Dr. McClelland

Dr. Megan McClelland – Preschoolers, Attention, and Academic Success

We are increasingly aware that the first few years of a child’s life can have a profound effect on his or her later success.

In our recent study, we utilized data from a study tracking 430 preschool-age children over 25 years. We found that those children who were rated higher by their parents on attention and persistence at age 4 had nearly 50 percent greater odds of getting a bachelor’s degree by age 25.

Parents of preschool children were asked to rate their children on items such as “plays with a single toy for long periods of time” or “child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered.”

Surprisingly, children’s math or reading scores at ages 7 or 21 did not significantly predict whether or not they completed college. However, a child’s ability to pay attention, focus, and persist on a task at age 4 increased the odds of completing college. This is compelling evidence that social and behavioral skills, such as paying attention, following directions and completing a task, may be even more crucial to attaining a degree than academic abilities.

The good news for parents and educators is that attention and persistence can be taught. Our research has shown that preschool children can develop these skills by playing certain movement and music games that ask children to stop, think, and then act. Importantly, children participating in these intervention games also improved in early literacy over the school year.

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