Head, Shoulders, Knees and … Math?

mathgirlThere’s some really fascinating new research out there. We hesitate to write about it for fear of misinterpretation, but it appears there are some easily identified behavioral clues that can point to a child’s future academic skills.

Claire Ponitz from the University of Virginia used a game called the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task (not to be confused with the children’s song of a similar name) to predict preschoolers’ academic aptitude. Results are published in the latest issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.

The game went something like this: Researchers took a group of kindergarteners and asked them to do the opposite of what they were asked in four different verbal instructions. For example, if they were told to touch their head, they should touch their toes. If they were told to touch their shoulders, they should touch their knees. Picture the opposite of the song.

The game takes about five minutes, and observers found that kids who performed well on this behavior task scored higher on tests of reading and math that were given several months later, compared to kids who had lower performance. Differences were particularly striking in math. “It’s amazing that this game works as well as it does. It is simple to administer, fun for the kids, and predicts children’s academic achievement”, Ponitz says.

Now hold it right there! I know it’s tempting to go grab your kiddo and start asking them to do one thing, even though you told them to do another, but please don’t try this at home. Kids are very strongly clued in to what their moms SAY — so much so that you can’t reliably expect them to do otherwise, and this is not meant as a screening tool for parents. But it is interesting to think about this task as a measurement of the ability to process information presented verbally, and respond with behavior that doesn’t ‘match’. Sort of like multi-tasking for the very young. Isn’t the human brain amazing?!

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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