An evaluation of the RLPP circle time games intervention to improve behavioural self-regulation: A cluster randomised controlled trial in New Zealand early-childhood education centres.

Year: 2019

Author: Keown, Louise, Franke, Nike

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Self-regulation is foundational for learning and school success. Early childhood is an important period for the development of self-regulation. Therefore, enhancing self-regulation development in pre-schoolers is a clear target for intervention.

Using a cluster randomised controlled trial, this study evaluated a pre-school classroom self-regulation intervention in a sample of 212 4-year-old children across 15 early-childhood education centres in Auckland, New Zealand. The study examined whether children who participated in the Red Light, Purple Light (RLPL) circle time games intervention showed stronger executive function and behavioural self-regulation skills (i.e., attentional flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control) at post-intervention and 4-month follow-up compared to children in a waitlist control group.

Eight centres (n = 107 children) were randomly assigned to the intervention group and seven (n = 105 children) to the waitlist control group. At each time point children’s executive function skills were measured using the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulder task (HTKS) and the dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task from the National Institute of Health (NIH) Toolbox Cognitive Function Battery. Teacher ratings of child behavioural regulation were collected using the 10-item subscale of the Child Behaviour Rating Scale, which measures children’s task-related behaviour in a classroom situation.

The teacher-led eight-week RLPL intervention uses movement and music games designed to help children practise executive function skills in fun and engaging ways. The programme includes traditional children’s games that have been modified to increase cognitive complexity.

At post-intervention children in the intervention group showed stronger executive function skills compared to control group children. In particular, significantly greater improvements were found for cognitive flexibility and attentional skills. These skills, which include paying attention, listening to and following directions, and ignoring distractions, play a key role in children’s learning and social development. At 4-month follow-up, teacher ratings of behavioural regulation were higher for children in the intervention group than children in the control group. Interviews with teachers who delivered the intervention highlighted other gains for children including improvements in language and social skills, self-confidence, leadership skills, and cooperation with peers. Future research could further investigate these findings with independent measures of language and social skills.

This the first randomised controlled trial of a self-regulation programme, delivered by teachers in New Zealand early childhood education centres, that has demonstrated intervention effects. The feasibility and inexpensive nature of this targeted self-regulation intervention could have practical implications for policy aimed at improving school readiness.