Patience and self-control in early childhood have been proven to have enormous developmental importance. The ‘marshmallow test’ is a famous experiment conducted in the 1960s to see if young children would eat a given treat immediately or show the necessary patience to wait a little longer for two treats. The 3 -5 year olds who displayed what is known as gratification delay in the original tests, and those involved in similar experiments since, enjoyed a range of positive outcomes in later life, including with academic performance, their ability to cope with stress and the adoption of healthier lifestyles and relationships.
A fascinating feature of these repeated studies is that children’s patience is improving, with children tested since 2000 waiting an average of two minutes longer within a ten-minute period than their 1960s counterparts! Interestingly however, most adults surveyed predicted the opposite – that today’s children would show less patience, with 75% predicting they would have less self- control. It is easy to see why they thought this in today’s digital age where so much is instantaneous and achievable at the click of a button. However, there are some powerful and compelling theories around how societal developments since the 1960s have improved things for very young children.
‘This finding stands in stark contrast with the assumption by adults that today’s children have less self-control than previous generations. We believe that increases in abstract thought, along with rising preschool enrolment, changes in parenting, and, paradoxically, cognitive skills associated with screen technologies, may be contributing to the generational improvements in the ability to delay gratification.’ – Dr Stephanie Carlson
We are privileged to live at a time when so much more is known and understood about how children learn, and about how important and long lasting the benefits of a first rate early years education are in later life. In our Pre prep and Nursery we nurture gratification delay in many ways, both analogue and digital.
When the children return after Easter they will be busy planting fruits and vegetables that will take many months of love, care and attention to grow, eventually harvested in the autumn. This deep, slow burn element of education is priceless. When our Reception classes finally scoop, slice and cook our magnificent pumpkins this is the culmination of an educational journey that required perseverance, abstract thought, and patience. Of course, the pumpkin soup tastes delicious too!
As a parent and teacher, I can see how young children can become preoccupied and involved with various digital devices. But I can also see so many positives, including an incredible ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods of time, to share and collaborate, and to problem solve. As well as planting and growing in the garden next term, we are also launching a student Podcast that will complement Year 2’s Media topic in their Computing lessons. Armed with nothing more than an iPad, the children will produce broadcasts that include Pre prep news features, garden updates, staff interviews, singing and musical performances, a joke of the week and whatever else they decide between themselves before beaming it out to our community; all at the age of seven! This sort of learning opportunity simply was not possible in the 1960s when the marshmallow test was first conducted. The progress made since then has been remarkable. We now know patience is more than just a virtue: it is a higher order executive function skill, which children have in abundance. The more we ask and expect of them, the more they astonish us, and, as a school that is passionate about character education, we are impatient for more!