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Relations between social skills and language and literacy outcomes among disruptive preschoolers: Task engagement as a mediator

Preschool children with disruptive behavior problems are at risk for social and academic difficulties. Many studies have shown a positive link between social skills and child outcomes, but the mechanism driving the link is not well understood. One possibility is that children with better social skills are better able to engage in tasks within the classroom, since preschool classrooms place significant social demands on children. The purpose of this study was to examine task engagement as a mediator between social skills at the start of the year and gains in language and literacy among children with disruptive behavior problems. Participants were 470 children aged 30 to 66 months (M = 48.7, SD = 6.7). Preschool teachers rated children's social skills and language and literacy, and independent observers rated their task engagement across multiple classroom settings. Path models showed that task engagement significantly mediated the association between social skills and language and literacy gains. When task engagement was divided into engagement during free play and engagement during whole group, only task engagement during whole group time, and not free play, was a significant mediator, although the size of the indirect effect was very small. Results suggest that stronger social skills help disruptive children engage in classroom activities, which in turn leads to stronger language and literacy gains. Results provide very limited support for the idea that task engagement during whole group, rather than free play, is important to language and literacy gains, although this finding needs replication before conclusions can be drawn. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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