The Need To Get Along

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Gold stars for good behavior, wedged on kindergarten report cards between seemingly more important information on young pupils' academic leanings, may be a much more important gauge of future academic success than parents give them credit for, an Illinois psychologist has concluded.

Gary W. Ladd, an education professor and the director of the Pathways Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, based his findings on several studies by the project, a seven-year study of 400 Illinois students from kindergarten on up. He found that young children who don't get along with peers and teachers often set themselves immediately on a "problematic pathway" of low and often declining school success.

In elementary school, and especially in the early grades, Mr. Ladd contends, children learn chiefly through interactions with friends and teachers. Those who don't get along, he says, are left out of important learning activities, which can ultimately lead to disenchantment with school.

"The way we look at it is engagement is the number-one thing. If kids don't engage and participate in classroom tasks with others, they're not going to learn as much as children who do," Mr. Ladd writes in a recent paper. "Regardless of how prepared children are academically, they still have to attach and engage themselves with the school environment."

Parents can help prepare their children for school's social component by using early conflicts or problems with other children as an opportunity to teach lessons on playing well, according to Mr. Ladd. Young children, he adds, aren't likely to connect their behavior with why they are liked or disliked.

For more information on the Pathways Project, which is financed by grants from the National Institute of Health, and research on the project, call (217) 244-3346.

--Kerry A. White

Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 32

Published in Print: September 23, 1998, as The Need To Get Along
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