Masten leads efforts to help homeless children prepare for kindergarten
Nationwide, nearly a million schoolchildren experience homelessness each year, with many school districts, including Minneapolis Public Schools, reporting increases since the economic crisis began. Addressing this challenge, child development professor Ann Masten is researching ways to help homeless and highly mobile children prepare for kindergarten.
Masten, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), is leading efforts at Minneapolis homeless shelters, such as People Serving People, to develop mental capacities and improve children's skills that predict school success and resilience. Known as executive functions, these skills typically involve self control, which develops between the ages of 3 and 7.
"To do well in kindergarten, you need to be able to listen to the teacher, follow instructions, and resist the temptation to get distracted, run around the room, or hit the child next to you," says Masten, who has been collaborating with shelters and community partners since 1980. "To learn anything, you have to have some control over your own behavior and attention."
Masten's work has grown to include several of her faculty colleagues, graduate and undergraduate students, and University staff, working alongside staff from local schools and community organizations.
In July, Masten and ICD faculty members Philip Zelazo and Stephanie Carlson were awarded a three-year grant from the National Center for Education Research. Their task is to develop an intervention to build executive functions as a strategy for improving school readiness, learning, and early school success of homeless and other highly mobile preschoolers.