“Linking Organized Activity Participation to Academic Gains: Social Skills and Problem-solving Skills as Potential Mediators”
Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Biennial Meeting
April 12-14, 2018
Presentation Title: “Linking Organized Activity Participation to Academic Gains: Social Skills and Problem-solving Skills as Potential Mediators” (poster)
Authors: Yangyang Liu, Sandra Simpkins, Deborah Lowe Vandell
Previous studies suggest that participation in organized activities promotes positive academic outcomes in youth (Durlak et al., 2010). According to the positive youth development framework and social emotional learning literature, social competences and problem-solving skills developed in organized activities could be possible mechanisms linking activity participation to academic gains (CASEL, 2005; Lerner et al., 2005). Specifically, youth could practice social skills through interactions with adults and peers in activities (Mahoney et al., 2003). Youth’s problem-solving skills could be enhanced in organized activities as they set achievement goals, and facilitate resources to accomplish activity tasks (Larson et al., 2006). Despite the growing literature on organized activities, little research has examined these possible mechanisms while considering the duration of activity participation across time. Therefore, the current study extends previous work by examining (a) longitudinal relations between the duration of activity participation and students’ social and problem-solving skills and (b) how social and problem-solving skills are, in turn, associated with academic performances.
The current study uses the Grade 1-6 data collected from NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The 1364 recruited families included about half (49%) female children, 24% ethnic minority children; 11% of the mothers did not have a high school education. From grade 1 to grade 4, mothers reported their children’s participation in any structured after-school activity. Based on these reports, we created a variable indicating duration of activity participation ranges 1 to 4, with higher values indicating more years of participation. School teachers also reported children’s social skills in 5th grade using the Social Skills Rating System (Gresham, & Elliott, 1990) documenting the perceived frequency of behaviors showing social competence and adaptive functioning (30 items; =.94). Students’ problem-solving skills were assessed with the Tower of Hanoi tasks in 5th grade to evaluate the ability to plan an organized sequence of moves. School teachers reported children’s academic performance in 6th grade using the Mock Report Card on a 5-point scale (1= “below grade level”, 5= “excellent”; =.94; Vandell, & Pierce, 1998). Though about 300 children and families dropped the study by Grade 6, data on all families were multiple imputed to represent missing values on key variables.
Our regression analyses showed that participating in organized activities from grade 1 to grade 4 for a longer duration was associated with gains in both social skills and problem-solving skills in grade 5 (Table 1). In addition, social skills and problem-solving skills in grade 5 were positively associated with teacher report on students’ academic performance in grade 6 (Table 2). Results from follow-up Sobel tests suggested that social and problem-solving skills in Grade 5 significantly mediated the association between activity duration from grade 1 to grade 4 and academic performance in grade 6 (z’=2.75, 3.65; p<0.01). In the full poster, we will test the hypotheses with structural equation modeling.
Findings from the current study provided initial support for social skills and problem-solving skills as potential mechanisms connecting activity participation and students’ academic performances across elementary school to early adolescence.