Baby Einsteins? There’s more to being ready for school.

When OSU’s Megan McClelland found out that a news story about her had made its way onto the Internet Movie Database, the go-to website for anything movie-related, she exclaimed, “Wow, should I start getting ready for the movie business now?”

Not quite Megan, but the bubbly OSU researcher who is almost as well-known for her scholarly output as she is for her popular classes in early childhood development is becoming a prominent figure in the debate on school readiness. There are two schools of thought around early childhood education: one that centers on rigorous academic studies and the other that believes the best education of very young children is centered on developing skills such as listening, socializing, playing and controlling impulses.

Megan, who belongs in the latter category, has developed a game called the Head-to-Toes task that is modeled after Simon Says, only kids are supposed to do the opposite of what they are told. She has published multiple studies showing that a child’s ability to master this task is associated with academic success later in life. Her next goal is to take the study national and do a large, controlled intervention.

Megan’s enthusiasm for her subject comes from a passionate desire to help kids succeed. The recent birth of her first child only drives her to do more. She is now on the forefront of a national movement to study self-regulation, defined as a child’s ability to pay attention, listen and regulate behavior. Her graduate students have taken up the cause as well, publishing on everything from one teacher’s success with self-regulation in Taiwan to a national study on how self-regulation made the difference on test scores for at-risk kids.

Megan does not hold back when it comes to her research and its implications for policy. She believes that teachers and parents need to “put away the flash card” and stop using products such as Baby Einstein, which have not been shown to have any positive effects on children.

“These self-regulation skills are good predictors of later success in a variety of academic subjects,” says Megan, associate professor in human development and family sciences. “When we teach and reinforce self-regulation first, academic achievement follows.”

Megan has made a DVD demonstrating the Head-to-Toes task, although when word got out to teachers, she was flooded with requests and simply couldn’t keep up with the demand of making copies with her own resources. Her dream would to see it distributed nationally – so perhaps one day she will end up in the movies, if not in a theater, in a school near you.

Some links:

A video of Megan talking about her work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83LCucnevUo

Ellen Galinsky http://www.momsrising.org/blog/closing-the-achievement-gap/

Oregonian article: http://blog.oregonlive.com/themombeat/2008/11/setting_limits_around_televisi.html

National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116896&org=SBE&from=home

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