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The best childhood

Dr Steven Howard
School of Education

Supporting children to develop self-regulation abilities through practical programs and resources

From predicting school readiness and academic success in childhood to health, wealth and criminality in adulthood, the development of self-regulation abilities early in life has been shown to influence a host of long-term outcomes.

Providing practical and low-cost ways for parents and early childhood educators to support the development of self-regulation has driven Dr Steven Howard to create a number of innovative, evidence-based, real-world strategies and resources.  

Dr Howard completed his PhD in developmental psychology in 2012 at York University in Canada. It was from this study that he identified a gap between what was known about the importance of developing self-regulation early and what was available at a practical level to support it. 

“My work seeks to find effective solutions that are accessible to everyone, including those most in need who are often least able to access these sorts of supports,” he says. 

In 2017, he was one of only two recipients of education-related grants through the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards. Undertaken in three phases of research, this three-year grant has culminated in the creation of a program, known as PRSIST, to assist preschool educators and parents to positively influence self-regulation development. Implementation and evaluation of the PRSIST program is currently occurring in 50 Australian early childhood centres, reaching more than 400 preschoolers. 

Dr Steven Howard

Committed to equality of access, Dr Howard says the PRSIST program will be made freely and widely available upon completion of the evaluation study “as a means to ensure dissemination and impact that is not conditioned upon the socio-economic means of pre-school centres, educators or parents”. 

In another example of practical innovation, Dr Howard has created, developed and validated a set of tools to help researchers and educators observe and monitor the aspects of a child’s development that lay the foundations for outcomes later in life.  

Where many existing assessments cost thousands of dollars, require a licence to use, or require high-level qualifications, Dr Howard’s Early Years Toolbox (EYT) is affordable and accessible and allows educators to easily and efficiently evaluate a child’s progress; the EYT collection of nine game-like iPad apps assesses self-regulation, language and numeracy development and has been downloaded nearly 10,000 times and translated into eight additional languages.  

The nature of Dr Howard’s work both demands and drives engagement. He works with preschools and early childhood educators via various pre-school networks, including Early Start’s Engagement Centres, a selection of 41 preschools from across regional and rural NSW.

Dr Howard consults with industry, government and education professional organisations to conduct his fieldwork and provides expert advice on a range of government and industry expert panels.

Four children’s books related to the PRSIST program have also been developed and they have been featured across news media.

“What inspires me is the possibility that my research can have a real-world impact on something truly meaningful to parents, educators and children.”