Self-Regulation Development in Early Childhood: The Role of Language Skills and Pre-kindergarten Learning Behaviors
Anthony, Karen Suzanne
Self-regulation is increasingly recognized as a key component of early school readiness. Self-regulatory skills, like paying attention, ignoring distractions, following directions, and persisting on difficult tasks, are particularly relevant for school success. However, little is known about the related developmental processes that may facilitate young children’s self-regulation growth. Socio-cultural theory posits a link between children’s early language skills and their self-regulation, whereby language serves as a metacognitive tool that children use to regulate their behavior, but thus far, only limited empirical evidence supports this connection. This study explored the relationship between children’s initial language skills, self-regulation gains, and learning behaviors in pre-kindergarten classrooms. Using an array of assessment tools (including standardized language assessments, direct child measures of self-regulation, teacher ratings of language and self-regulation, and child observational data), this study employed a unique cross-validation approach to answer three main questions. The first question examined the relationship between children’s language skills at pre-kindergarten entry and their self-regulation growth during the year. The second question explored whether children’s entering language skills were associated with the learning behaviors in which they engaged in their classrooms. The final question tested whether children’s learning behaviors in the classroom mediated the relationship between their entering language skills and their self-regulation gains. The study’s results demonstrated that children’s entering language skills were positively related to their self-regulation growth over the course of the pre-kindergarten year. Further, children’s entering language skills were related to classroom behaviors believed to be particularly relevant for self-regulation growth, including social and sequential learning activities. In addition, children’s language skills were positively related to involvement during learning activities, and negatively related to off-task behavior. Finally, although the overall results of the analyses did not support mediation, the models for involvement and off-task behavior approached the statistical criteria for mediation. The results suggest that early language skills may play an important role in the development of self-regulation, in part because they are an important aspect of children’s ability to become highly engaged in classroom activities.