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Why having a really talkative toddler may be a good thing

The study involved 895 American preschool children from diverse race and ethnic backgrounds.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Children who have a large vocabulary before they start school tend to do better in class, according to new research.

The findings, based on a study of four-year-olds, show how a child’s ability to engage with teachers and other youngsters is affected by the range of words they know.

The results also show that young children are more likely to get involved with classroom tasks if they have learned how to suppress inappropriate behavior and block out distracting thoughts and feelings.

Study lead author Qingqing Yang, of Ohio State University said: “This study demonstrated that the levels of vocabulary skills and inhibitory control that children exhibit in the autumn of the preschool years matter for their classroom engagement in different ways.

“Children with lower inhibitory control and vocabulary skills appear to be at risk of displaying different kinds of non-engaging behaviors.

"This suggests that teachers need to be able to recognize who may be susceptible to more negative engagement. They also need to facilitate classroom engagement for all children.

“Given the large amount of time that children spend in the classroom, these findings have implications for optimizing children’s vocabulary and inhibitory control development.”

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Preschool is defined as the years of informal education before elementary school.

Previous studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary skills during that time are essential for later academic success.

Researchers say that "inhibitory control" - the ability to override the natural human response to distractions or stimuli and instead focus on achieving goals or tasks is also critical.

For the study, a total of 895 preschool children – 443 girls and 452 boys – were recruited from diverse race and ethnic backgrounds, from 223 classrooms in 10 locations within eight American states.

The research team assessed the youngsters when they started preschool in the fall and then again the following spring.

To calculate skill levels, the researchers used several measures including the pencil tap test. This was used to assess inhibitory control – the child was instructed to tap once when the assessor tapped twice and vice versa.

For vocabulary, children were asked to name objects in pictures; and assessors rated classroom engagement with teachers, other children and tasks by spending around four hours observing each child individually.

Positive classroom engagement included sociability, communication, and self-reliance with tasks; while negative included conflict with teachers and other pupils as well as off-task behavior.

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Results showed that children with stronger vocabulary skills at the start of the preschool year displayed more positive engagement with both their teachers and other children.

Those with better inhibitory control also had more positive engagement with tasks and less negative interaction in the classroom.

Doctoral student Ms. Yang said: "Conversely, the study suggests that negative engagement in the classroom shapes vocabulary learning.

"It creates the link between weak inhibitory control among children in the fall and poor skills in vocabulary and inhibitory control in the Spring."

The researchers say their findings, published in the journal Early Education and Development, are an important step forward given that ‘a small change in children’s skills and experiences’ early on can ‘improve or impair’ their chance of academic success long-term.

They said potential implications for policymakers to consider include a need for better teacher training in order for them to identify, earlier on, at-risk pupils who lack the skills and provide the right support.

Ms. Yang added: "This could help children who have lower levels of inhibitory control and weaker vocabulary to thrive better once they enter formal education."

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