Preschool-aged children who can focus on a particular task for an extended period of time have a 50 percent greater chance of graduating from college, according to a new study from Oregon State University.
Observing 430 preschoolers, researchers asked parents to rate their children based on social and behavioral skills, such as "plays with a single toy for long periods of time" or "child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered." Additionally, the children's reading and math skills were assessed at age 7 and again at age 21.
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What researchers discovered was that the ability to pay attention and follow directions may be more critical than academic abilities to overall academic success.
"There is a big push now to teach children early academic skills at the preschool level," said Megan McClelland, an early child development researcher at Oregon State and lead author of the study, in a news release. "Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn't math or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age 4."
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Parents whose children rated higher on attention span and persistence at the age of 4 had a nearly 50 percent greater chance of completing their college degree by age 25, according to the study. Fortunately, as McClelland noted in the news release, these social and behavioral skills can be taught, and the earlier adults step in to guide the student, the greater odds a child has to succeed academically.
"Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important," McClelland said. "Increasingly, we see that the ability to listen, pay attention, and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life."
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