Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Early Childhood Education

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Carol Trivette

Committee Members

Pamela Evanshen, L. Kathryn Sharp, Matthew McBee


The purpose of this study is to demonstrate whether and how teacher-child interactions, teacher-child relationships, children’s self-control, parents’ education levels, teachers’ teaching experience and education levels, and classroom physical environment impact children’s engagement levels. Preschoolers from Head Start programs and a university childcare center (N = 135, M = 54.93 months, SD = 7.50) and 15 preschool classroom teachers in East Tennessee participated in the study. Classroom head teachers rated child’s engagement, teacher-child interaction, teacher-child relationships, and children’s self-control using provided questionnaires. The primary researcher assessed the classroom physical environment and determined the reliability for the Children’s Physical Environments Rating Scale (CPERS). The structural equation modeling (SEM) statistical approach was employed to analyze the data.

The results showed that the level of preschoolers’ engagement in classroom learning activities was directly associated with their self-control (β = .37, p < .001). Preschoolers’ engagement was not indirectly associated with children’s self-control through teacher-child interaction. The level of engagement of preschoolers in classroom learning activities did not directly associate with teacher-child relationships but was indirectly associated with the teacher-child relationship through children’s self-control (β = .20 , p < .001 ). When separating the two subscales of teacher-child relationship (closeness and conflict), teacher-child closeness was directly associated with children’s engagement level (β = .22, p = .003). In addition, teacher-child conflict was both directly (β = - .17, p = .022) and indirectly associated with child’s engagement level through children’s self-control (β = .26, p < .001). Classroom physical environment did not directly predict the level of engagement of preschoolers, while indirect relationships were found between the classroom physical environment scores and the level of engagement of preschoolers, and the relationship was mediated by children’s self-control (β = .09, p = .050).

The study offers implications for teachers as they work on enhancing children’s engagement level in their learning activities. Future research suggested by this study include further exploration of intervention strategies to increase children’s active engagement. Increasing sample size and obtaining reliability of the measures on children’s behaviors would also improve the rigor of the study.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.