Early Learning Study

About the Project

The Early Learning Study examined the ways in which teachers support children’s self-regulatory competencies in kindergarten and first grade classrooms. The research team gathered data from families and observed children in classrooms to understand the ways in which contact, communication, and relationships between teachers and children supported their ability to stay on task and engaged in learning.

The Research

Our team conducted a series of studies to understand children’s development of self-regulation and executive functioning and how the quality of teacher-student interactions contributed to children’s academic and behavioral outcomes in early childhood (kindergarten and first grade). The work was conducted in rural schools, which is an important consideration because rural populations tend to be under-represented in developmental science.


Example Findings

Rimm-Kaufman, Curby, Grimm, Nathanson & Brock (2009) found:

  • Children with better self-regulation skills at the start of kindergarten showed greater behavioral self-control, cognitive self-control, and work habits later in the school year.

  • Children with highly organized teachers were higher in adaptive classroom behaviors.

  • Students spent more time engaged in learning and less time off-task when teachers were highly organized, regardless of whether students were low and high in self-regulation.

Brock, Rimm-Kaufman, Nathanson & Grimm (2009) found:

  • Cool executive functioning (i.e., performance on problem solving tasks without emotion-eliciting consequences) predicted especially higher math achievement, learning-related behaviors, and engagement compared to hot executive functioning (i.e., performance on delay tasks with emotional consequences). 

Curby, Rimm-Kaufman & Ponitz (2009) found:

  • Children’s early reading and mathematical skills at kindergarten entry strongly predicted their rate of growth of these skills.

    • For reading, children who started higher grew faster than those who started lower.

    • For phonological awareness and math, children who started higher grew more slowly than those starting lower.

    • Classroom contributions to student outcomes depended on children’s initial skill level, sometimes in ways that were counterintuitive.

    • For word reading, children who entered kindergarten with lower scores had greater growth in classrooms with better first-grade instructional interactions but lower levels of emotional support.

    • For mathematics, lower achieving children had greater growth in classrooms with better kindergarten classroom organization.