Study: First Grade Significantly Boosts Child’s Focus, Ability To Follow Rules

GERMANY— The earliest days of elementary school can dictate the dynamic separation of a child’s ability to focus and conduct themselves more carefully than peers, a recent study finds.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkley and the Max Planck Institute in Germany predicted controlled settings for education could enhance the cognitive skills of children. Learning to remain still, follow directions, and shun distractions were the foundations for developing such skills.

Young girl in school
Children show marked improvement in focus and their ability to follow instructions after the first grade, a recent study finds. (Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash)

The research team monitored 62 five-year-old children — some of whom had begun the first grade, and some who were kept back in kindergarten — to determine their theory. Utilizing computerized tests and brain scans of the students at the start of the school years, the authors tracked the cognitive progress of each child and did follow-up tests again at the end of the year.

They found that in the follow-up assessment, the children who completed the first grade showed a far greater ability to follow instructions than their peers in the more play-oriented kindergarten.

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

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Although both groups of preschoolers and grade-school children showed improvements with cognitive skills, there was more sustainability with schoolchildren. Researchers were able to conclude that children who went on to grade school were more focused, less impulsive, and were able to follow rules than children who remained in preschool.

Despite the benefits, the researchers aren’t advocating for parents to push their children into grade school as soon as they’re allowed.

“This does not mean that early school entrance is necessarily better for children. We can not answer the question about the right time to start school – this has to remain an individual decision. Each child is different. And we don’t yet know whether the effects are lasting,” says co-author Yee Lee Shing, in a news release.

Positive effect, indeed, but more research must be done to discover the lasting effects of shifting from preschool to grade school has on a child. However, this does lead researchers to a more advanced state than previously found.

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

This study’s findings were published in May in the Psychological Science Journal.

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