Kindergartners and first graders from low-income families showed gains in math and reading after taking part in a program that helps them learn to manage emotions.
Earlier studies suggest that poverty can affect a child’s readiness to start school, both emotionally and academically. Researchers tested an intervention called INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, which gives teachers and parents a framework for appreciating and supporting differences in children’s personalities.
“Supporting young low-income children so they can reach their potential in the classroom and beyond is of vital importance,” says Sandee McClowry, a professor in New York University’s Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology and the study’s senior author. “Our findings show that learning is enhanced when it also addresses the social and emotional development of children.”
How the Program Works
During a 10-week period, teachers and parents were taught child management strategies that match the child’s temperament. In addition, children participated in 10 weekly sessions in their classrooms. As part of this program, educators used puppets to depict four temperaments—Fredrico the Friendly, Gregory the Grumpy, Hilary the Hard Worker, and Coretta the Cautious—to help children understand and solve dilemmas they face on a daily basis.
The researchers randomized 22 urban elementary schools serving low-income families to either the INSIGHTS intervention or a supplemental reading program, which served as a control condition. Participants included 435 students in 122 classrooms.
Students received the intervention during the second half of kindergarten and the first half of first grade, with their parents and teachers participating during the same time period. The researchers collected data on students’ progress at five different points during the studied period. Standardized tools were used for measuring temperament, attention span, behavioral problems, and reading/math achievement.
Skills ‘Vital to Learning’
Their results, which appear in the Journal of Educational Psychology, show that children enrolled in INSIGHTS experienced growth in math and reading achievement and sustained attention that was significantly faster than that of children enrolled in the supplemental reading program.
In addition, children participating in INSIGHTS showed decreases in behavior problems over time while those enrolled in the supplemental reading program demonstrated increases.
“These results indicate that INSIGHTS supports young children’s development of self-regulatory skills that are vital to learning, such as sustained attention span and curbing inappropriate behaviors,” says O’Connor, the study’s lead author.
“The findings, combined with previous research in this area, show that programs of this nature can enhance low-income children’s self-regulation skills and, with it, enhance their academic achievement in early elementary school.”
The Institute of Education Sciences supported the study.
*Image of “joyful children” via Shutterstock