First Year of Grade School Sharpens Kids’ Attention Skills

Summary: A new study reports children who transition earlier into formal education are more focused and less impulsive that their peers who remain in preschool.

Source: UC Berkeley.

Study finds that early schoolgoers are more focused than their preschool peers.

The first year of elementary school markedly boosts a child’s attentiveness, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

The study, led by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, shows that children who transition earlier to a formal school environment learn to be more focused and less impulsive than their peers at play-based preschools. The findings are published today in the online issue of the journal Psychological Science.

“These results demonstrate for the first time how environmental context shapes the development of brain mechanisms in 5-year-olds transitioning into school,” said study co-author Silvia Bunge, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Researchers hypothesized that a controlled educational setting in which young children must learn to sit still, follow directions and avoid distractions would boost certain cognitive skills, such as staying on task. The experiment, conducted in Germany where preschool is referred to as “kindergarten,” proved their theory.

“Our results indicate that the structured learning environment of school has a positive effect on the development of behavioral control,” said study lead author Garvin Brod, a researcher at the German Institute for International Educational Research.

For the study, researchers used computerized tests and brain imaging to track the cognitive performance of 62 children aged 5. In comparing the results of tests conducted at the beginning and end of a school and preschool year, the study found that the children who had gone to school showed greater improvement than their preschool peers at maintaining focus and following rules.

Image shows young children.

Researchers hypothesized that a controlled educational setting in which young children must learn to sit still, follow directions and avoid distractions would boost certain cognitive skills, such as staying on task. The experiment, conducted in Germany where preschool is referred to as “kindergarten,” proved their theory. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

Moreover, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brains during an attention control task showed the schoolgoers to have a more active right parietal cortex, which supports attentiveness, among other cognitive skills.

While the findings reveal new information in the ongoing debate over the developmentally appropriate age to start school, the researchers are not necessarily advocating for early school start ages.

“Those results should not be taken to mean that the elementary school setting is necessarily better for young children’s development than play-based early schooling,” Bunge said, citing research that shows children do well in hands-on, interactive learning environments.

Moreover, there is enormous developmental variation across children of the same age, she said.

About this neuroscience research article

The study is part of the HippoKid project led by Yee Lee Shing at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Source: Barbara McMakin – UC Berkeley
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Does One Year of Schooling Improve Children’s Cognitive Control and Alter Associated Brain Activation?” by Garvin Brod, Silvia A. Bunge, and Yee Lee Shing in Psychological Science. Published online May 10 2017 doi:10.1177/0956797617699838

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UC Berkeley (2017, May 9). First Year of Grade School Sharpens Kids’ Attention Skills. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved May 9, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/attention-school-6643/
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Abstract

Does One Year of Schooling Improve Children’s Cognitive Control and Alter Associated Brain Activation?

The “5-to-7-year shift” refers to the remarkable improvements observed in children’s cognitive abilities during this age range, particularly in their ability to exert control over their attention and behavior—that is, their executive functioning. As this shift coincides with school entry, the extent to which it is driven by brain maturation or by exposure to formal schooling is unclear. In this longitudinal study, we followed 5-year-olds born close to the official cutoff date for entry into first grade and compared those who subsequently entered first grade that year with those who remained in kindergarten, which is more play oriented. The first graders made larger improvements in accuracy on an executive-function test over the year than did the kindergartners. In an independent functional MRI task, we found that the first graders, compared with the kindergartners, exhibited a greater increase in activation of right posterior parietal cortex, a region previously implicated in sustained attention; increased activation in this region was correlated with the improvement in accuracy. These results reveal how the environmental context of formal schooling shapes brain mechanisms underlying improved focus on cognitively demanding tasks.

“Does One Year of Schooling Improve Children’s Cognitive Control and Alter Associated Brain Activation?” by Garvin Brod, Silvia A. Bunge, and Yee Lee Shing in Psychological Science. Published online May 10 2017 doi:10.1177/0956797617699838

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