Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Daryl B. Greenfield

Second Committee Member

Batya Elbaum

Third Committee Member

Matthias Siemer

Fourth Committee Member

Daniel Messinger

Fifth Committee Member

Heather Henderson - Committee Member


The purpose of this study was to determine whether the effects of executive functions on school readiness outcomes were mediated by approaches to learning in Head Start preschoolers. Executive functions are cognitive skills, including inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, that are involved in learning as well as regulating behavior (Blair, Granger, & Razza, 2005; Espy, McDiarmid, Cwik, Stalets, Hamby, & Senn, 2004). Approaches to learning include important learning-to-learn skills such as persistence, initiative, and motivation (Fantuzzo, Perry, & McDermott, 2004). Based on previous literature, it was hypothesized that strong executive functions would support the development of positive approaches to learning, which in turn would lead to increased school readiness. To test this, data were collected on 179 four-year-old Head Start preschoolers. Children were assessed on executive functions (cognitive inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and working memory), approaches to learning (using both a teacher rating scale and a direct observation), school readiness, and verbal ability. Results indicated that approaches to learning partially mediated the relationship between executive functions and school readiness, providing support for the study's main hypothesis. Results are discussed in the context of preparing at-risk preschool children for success in school.


At-risk Children; Preschool; Early Childhood; Chil