Simon Says to Improve Math Skills
Most children are familiar with “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” an interactive song that teaches different parts of the body. But Megan McClelland, an associate professor of child development and family science at Oregon State University, has developed a similar, Simon Says-like task, called Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders that may actually improve academic achievement. The task helps preschool-aged children increase their self-regulation. Self-regulation affects people’s ability to listen, pay attention, follow instructions, and complete tasks. Greater self-regulation has been shown to improve children’s math and early literacy achievement. Self-regulation is especially important to develop early on because children tend to enter school at varying levels, and those with low self-regulation often give up on school and learning early on.
Previous studies had shown that the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task, in which children must listen carefully and follow instructions, was associated with significant improvement in self-regulation. Furthermore, these students also made gains in academic achievement. McClelland’s most recent study reveals that even children with initially higher levels of self-regulation (in this case children in Asian countries where children are known to have stronger self-regulation than in the U.S.) benefitted from the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task. Students who performed well on the task scored significantly better in math, reading, and early literacy. Most notably, Chinese students who did well on the task performed 4 months ahead of their classmates in math.
Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders and other similar tasks could be used in early-learning classrooms to develop children’s self-regulation and measure whether children are ready for kindergarten. Children who enter school without strong self-regulation are often inattentive, disruptive, and disengaged from the start. McClelland hopes to further develop Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders and other tasks designed to improve and assess self-regulation, and thereby, academic achievement. She is currently performing a 4-year study to evaluate and refine Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders. If the study proves successful, the task could be adopted by teachers across the country to measure kindergarten readiness. Who would have thought that a game similar to Simon Says could have such important implications for learning?
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