In a recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, findings show that young children who pay attention and can complete tasks have a 50 percent better chance of finishing college.

The Oregon State University study followed a group of 430 pre-school aged children and concluded that social and behavioral skills such as completing a task, following directions, and paying attention can be more crucial than academic abilities.

The advantage to these findings is that these adaptable skills can be taught to children. According to Megan McClelland, an OSU early child development researcher and lead author of the study, there is a significant push to teach academics, like reading and math skills, at a young age. However, this study suggests that the biggest predictor of college completion is young children being able to pay attention and follow directions at age 4.

During this study, parents were asked to rate their preschool-aged children on topics such as “plays with a single toy for long periods of time” or “child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered.” Later, the same children were assessed at age 7 using reading and math standardized tests. Then at age 21, their reading and math skills were tested again.

To the authors’ surprise, math and reading achievement did not coincide with college completion. Children whose parents rated them higher on attention span and perseverance at age 4 had a 50 percent higher rate of receiving a bachelor’s degree by age 25.

McClelland commented that early intervention by parents and educators can help children succeed academically. She said:

“The important factor was being able to focus and persist. Someone can be brilliant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can focus when they need to and finish a task or job.”

The ultimate goal would be to boost a child’s self-regulation by increasing their abilities to listen, remember instructions, complete a task, and pay attention.

In previous studies, McClelland has seen that simple classroom games, such as Red light/Green light and Simon Says, can improve self-regulation as well as literacy.

In conclusion, authors see that the ability to listen, complete tasks, and pay attention are crucial to achieve success later in life.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald