Well-adapted pre-schoolers become better citizens later

Photo: Peter Voerman. Creative Commons.

A new study has found a link between executive function in kindergarten children and participation in extracurricular activities such as music and drama clubs when they reach eighth grade (13-14 years old). Other research has demonstrated that such participation in extracurricular activity is linked to later civic engagement.

The study therefore establishes a link between early experiences and later civic engagement, such as volunteering, voting, taking part in demonstrations or contacting public officials. This is an important consideration because there is a large and growing gap in civic engagement between low-income and higher-income young people in the USA.

Executive function skills include the ability to exert self-control, the ability to remember things short-term (working memory) and the ability to think flexibly. Most research on executive function has linked it to young children’s readiness to enter school and the ability to learn. But it also relates to civic engagement. Executive function helps children learn to share, understand others’ perspectives, and work positively with others, which are all foundations for civic engagement.

Two researchers from New York, Jennifer Astuto and Martin Ruck, examined data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, covering nearly 23,000 children. Executive function was measured by parent and teacher reports, and extracurricular activity was measured by asking the children directly about their involvement in sports, drama/music and school clubs.

The researchers also found that time spent in self-directed activities in kindergarten correlated with the amount of time spent in extracurricular activity at eighth grade.

This study provides another powerful rationale for focusing on executive function in children’s early years.

 

Astuto J & Ruck M (2017), Growing up in poverty and civic engagement: the role of kindergarten executive function and play predicting participation in 8th grade extracurricular activities, Applied Developmental Science