Self Regulation as a Predictor of Academic Abilities
Self regulation is the ability of a person to tolerate sensations, situations and distress and form appropriate responses to that
sensory input. Simply stated, it is the ability to control behavior. In children, self regulation matures just like other
developmental processes. Children get older and learn to think before they act. Research continues to develop in this area of
self regulation and how much it effects other aspects of development. A recent article in Developmental Psychology reports
that self regulation in children is a predictor of academic abilities. The researchers used the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders
Task (HTKS) to evaluate 343 kindergartens ability to self regulate. The HTKS task measures the ability to listen, remember
instructions and follow motor commands. It does not measure emotional responses. Children with higher levels of self
regulation in the beginning of the school year achieved higher scores in reading, vocabulary and math at the end of the
school year. The researchers concluded that improving self regulation in children can improve academic achievement and
Now, for any therapist, teacher or parent who has knowledge of sensory integration knows how much deficits in self regulation
effect behaviours, social skills and motor responses. We need to continue to educate school staff on the importance of this
skill be developed in all children. Per-kindergarten and kindergarten curriculum has changed it's focus to reading, writing and
math skills at an earlier age. There is not enough practice time to learn self regulation during these early formative years. Now
it appears as if this hard core academic curriculum in the early years needs to slow down. This study provides significant
evidence to support teaching self regulation skills.
Ponitz, Claire Cameron; McClelland, Megan M.; Matthews, J. S.; Morrison, Frederick J. A structured observation of behavioral
self-regulation and its contribution to kindergarten outcomes. Developmental Psychology. Vol 45(3), May 2009, 605-619.
Oregon State University (2009, June 9). Self-regulation Game Predicts Kindergarten Achievement. ScienceDaily. Retrieved
June 9, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/06/090608162547.htm
Self Regulation Activities
The researchers, Megan McClelland, Ph.D., Associate Professor Human Development and Family Sciences, and her student,
Shauna Tominey, have allowed us to share the activities that they are working on developing to facilitate self regulation skills.
The activities are still being developed and are currently being tested for their effectiveness in improving self-regulation.
Thus, there are not any definitive claims about the effectiveness of the games in improving self-regulation at this point. Thank
you very much to Dr. Megan McClelland and Shauna Tominey for sharing this resource!
Kindergarten Readiness Study Games
Here is a description of the games played in our study. These games were designed to help children practice paying
attention, following directions, remembering rules, and demonstrating self-control.
Red Light, Purple Light. Like Red Light, Green Light, a teacher acted as a “stop light” by standing at the opposite end of
the room from the children. The “stop light” held up different colors to represent stop and go. We used different colors, such
as purple for “go” and orange for “stop” and then did the opposite. We also used different shapes to represent stop and go.
For example a yellow square for “go,” but a yellow triangle was “stop.” Children also had a turn being the stop light!
The Freeze Game. Children and teachers danced to music. When the teacher stopped the music, everyone froze. We used
slow and fast songs and had children dance slowly to slow songs and quickly to fast songs. Once children mastered these
skills, children tried moving to opposite cues: children tried to remember to dance quickly to the slow songs and slowly to the
Cooperative Freeze. Related to the Freeze Game, when the music stopped, children found a mat to stand on and froze.
Teachers removed mats so that children had to cooperate with one another to find a space for everyone on fewer mats. We
also taped different colored paper to each mat. When the music stopped, a teacher held up a specific color and children
stood on the mat with the matching color.
Sleeping, Sleeping, All the Children are Sleeping. Children pretended to sleep when the circle leader sang, “Sleeping,
sleeping, all the children are sleeping.” Once children were pretending to sleep, the circle leader said, “And when they woke
up… they were [monkeys]!” Children woke up and pretended to act like monkeys. The circle leader then repeated the song
and suggested other animals. Children who were pretending to sleep were called on to give suggestions for other animals.
We made this more complicated by showing 3 different colored circles (ex: red, blue, purple). On the red circle was a picture
of a snake, on the blue circle was a picture of a butterfly and there was no animal on the purple circle. When it was time to
wake up, the circle leader pointed to one of the circles and the children acted out the animal on that circle. Pointing to the
purple circle (the circle with no picture) allowed the leader to choose any animal. After a few rounds, we removed the pictures
and children had to remember what animal was on each circle.
Conducting an Orchestra. Every child used a musical instrument. The circle leader used a drum stick as a conducting
baton. When the conductor waved the baton, children played their instruments. When the conductor put the baton down,
children stopped. Children played their instruments quickly when the baton moved quickly and slowly when the baton moved
slowly. Children were also asked to respond to opposite cues. For example, when the conductor waved the baton, children
stopped playing their instruments and when the conductor set the baton down, children played their instruments.
Drum Beats. Teachers used drum beats to represent different actions that children can do while sitting (e.g., clapping or
stomping) or while moving around the room (e.g., walking or dancing). For example, children walked quickly to fast drumming,
slowly to slow drumming, and froze when the drumming stopped. Teachers also asked children to respond to opposite cues
(walk slowly to fast drum beats and quickly to slow drum beats). Teachers also associated different actions with specific drum
cues. For example, slow drumming meant stomping feet and fast drumming meant jumping jacks.
Tominey, S. & McClelland, M. (2009). Red light, purple light: Initial findings from an intervention to improve self-regulation over
the pre-kindergarten year. Manuscript in preparation.
Tominey, S. & McClelland, M. (April, 2008). “And when they woke up, they were monkeys!” Using classroom games to
promote preschooler’s self-regulation and school readiness. Poster presented at the Conference on Human Development in
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