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In Event: Beyond the Child: Measurement Approaches to School Readiness that are Relevant for Early Childhood Professionals
Young children’s behavioral self-regulation (SR) skills are foundational for school readiness and later success in school and life (Blair et al., 2011). Children’s early experiences across contexts support or constrain their SR development (Brown et al., 2013). This study advances the understanding of the links between young children’s SR development and their contextual experiences in several ways: (1) by examining children’s growth in SR as directly assessed across three time-points during preschool; (2) by implementing a novel observation coding scheme of children’s proximal neighborhoods; and (3) by observing the quality of individual teacher-child interactions within the classroom.
We examine preschool children’s growth trajectories in SR, exploring how their proximal neighborhood contexts and their individual interactions with their teachers combine to predict their growth in SR. This study extends prior neighborhood research, which has often relied on aggregate indicators at the census tract levels to capture features of neighborhoods (Caughy et al., 2013) —an approach that likely masks variation in individual neighborhood experiences. Similarly, classroom research has often assessed the quality of teacher-child interactions at the classroom level, missing important variation across individual children within the same classroom (Williford et al., 2013).
We hypothesize children’s proximal neighborhood experiences will predict growth in children’s SR skills over and above census tract level data. We expect that individual high quality teacher-child interactions will predict children’s SR over and above classroom level teacher-child interactions. Finally, we predict that children’s individual positive interactions with their teachers will serve as a protective factor, such that the negative association between neighborhood risks and children’s SR growth will be weakened as the quality of individual teacher-child interactions increases.
Participants were 375 ethnically diverse children coming from low-income backgrounds and their 53 preschool teachers. Neighborhood features are captured in two ways: (1) census tract indicators of crime and housing quality and, (2) indicators of children’s proximal neighborhoods using the virtual neighborhood coding scheme (McCoy et al., 2018; see Table 1 for more information). Classroom level teacher-child interactions are captured by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (Pianta et al., 2008) and individual teacher-child interaction quality was captured using the Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System (Downer et al., 2010). Children’s behavioral self-regulation (SR) was directly assessed using the Head, Toes, Knees, Shoulders Task (Cameron Ponitz et al., 2008).
Table 2 provides additional demographic and descriptive statistics. Preliminary growth curve analyses indicate that children experienced significant growth in SR skills during preschool, that growth varied significantly across children, and that growth was predicted by the quality of neighborhood indicators and individual teacher-child interactions.
Final analyses will use a 3-level hierarchical model (time, children, classroom) to examine the extent to which children’s neighborhood experiences and individual classroom experiences combine to predict their growth in SR. Virtual neighborhood coding is also underway (completed by 12/1/2018). The discussion will focus on the value of understanding young children’s experiences both in and outside of the classroom to develop and align supports that encourage ready children, families and schools.