Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control? She was bent the development of coherent speech in children of preschool age over her clipboard, a stubby pencil in her hand, slowly scratching out the letters in the book’s title, one by one: T H E. Jocelyn said, staring forcefully at her classmate. Henry, sitting next to her, sighed dramatically.
I’m going as fast as I can! She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and plowed ahead: V E R Y. The three children were seated at their classroom’s listening center, where their assignment was to leaf through a book together while listening on headphones to a CD with the voice of a teacher reading it aloud. The book in question was lying on the table in front of Jocelyn, and every few seconds, Abigail would jump up and lean over Jocelyn to peer at the cover, checking what came next in the title. Henry fiddled with the CD player. Like Abigail and Jocelyn, he was a kindergarten student in Red Bank, a small town near the New Jersey shore.
He and Jocelyn had long ago finished writing the title of the book on their lesson plans. They already had their headphones on. The only thing standing between them and the story was the pencil clutched in their classmate’s hand. For all their impatience, they knew the rule of the listening center: You don’t start listening to the story until everyone is ready. The Tools of the Mind program at a school in Red Bank, N. He grabbed his face and lowered his head to the desk with a clunk.
Abigail was hopping up and down now. She bounced from foot to foot, still writing: P I L. His finger hovered over the play button on the CD player . Abigail etched out her last few letters and put on her headphones. When the CD finished, each child took a piece of paper and drew three pictures to illustrate what happened at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the book.
Over the last few years, a new buzz phrase has emerged among scholars and scientists who study early-childhood development, a phrase that sounds more as if it belongs in the boardroom than the classroom: executive function. The ability of young children to control their emotional and cognitive impulses, it turns out, is a remarkably strong indicator of both short-term and long-term success, academic and otherwise. In some studies, self-regulation skills have been shown to predict academic achievement more reliably than I. There is a popular belief that executive-function skills are fixed early on, a function of genes and parenting, and that other than medication, there’s not much that teachers and professionals can do to affect children’s impulsive behavior. In fact, though, there is growing evidence that the opposite is true, that executive-function skills are relatively malleable — quite possibly more malleable than I. And at the end of the experiment, the students dutifully reported that they now had more self-control than when they started the program.