Research Roundup: Learning during the first few years of life

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Children learning in the same preschool classroom have differing language environments

Much research about the language environments in preschool classrooms focuses on how teachers speak to and with children. But what about the child’s perspective?

To get this side of the story, researchers outfitted preschoolers with video cameras. The students took turns wearing the cameras on their heads over the course of four school days, and the lead teacher wore one, too. Researchers analyzed the footage to determine how much and how often each child interacted with a teacher or a peer.

Several key findings include:

    – 60% of the children’s interactions occurred with a teacher
    – Interactions with a teacher lasted nearly three times longer than interactions with peers
    – 92% of complex sentences originated from teachers

The data also revealed much variability in each child’s language environment, despite the fact that the children were learning within the same classroom. That may be due to one of several causes, lead study author Leydi Johana Chaparro-Moreno said.

“Teachers may adapt how they interact with kids to meet the students’ learning needs, or it is also possible that children’s language ability and personality may play a role in how they interact with the teacher and their peers,” she said.

The study is part of a larger project designed to identify which aspects of the classroom experience most benefit a child’s academic and social development. Similar research into the classroom language environment has been conducted using LENA technology.

Read the study in PLOS One or a summary article at OSU.edu.


Babies’ babbling may shape parental behavior in a way that optimizes their learning environment

New research suggests that babies’ babble might be shaping the way that adults respond to them, a study published in the Journal of Child Language discovered.

“Babbling is a social catalyst for babies to get information from the adults around them. It’s not meaningless,” study co-author Steven Elmlinger, a psychology graduate student at Cornell University, told Fatherly.

Researchers observed and recorded 30 infant-mother pairs playing together, finding that when babies babbled, parents responded and simplified their speech.

While studies have documented that child-directed speech helps children to acquire language, this new information suggests that infants may be influencing their environment to optimize their own learning as well.

“Infants are actually shaping their own learning environments in ways that make learning easier to do,” Elmlinger said.

Read the study in the Journal of Child Language or a summary article at Fatherly.com.


Infants learn perseverance by watching adults

A new study from MIT suggests that babies may learn grit and perseverance by watching adults exhibit those qualities.

The experiment, detailed in Science, found that babies tried harder to complete challenging tasks after watching adults struggle and succeed in similar tasks, like pulling a toy out of a small container.

Because the babies completed different tasks than the adults, the researchers concluded that they weren’t merely imitating the adult behavior, but demonstrating genuine learning.

“This study suggests that we’re not born necessarily with a certain amount of grit that can’t change,” Leonard told an education news outlet. “It’s not a stable character trait. It can be learned and influenced by social context.”

The study joins a growing body of evidence suggesting that traits like grit and perseverance are teachable and influenced by the environment, rather than static allotments determined at birth by genetics.

Read the study in Science or a summary at The 74 Million.

LENA Team

The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers and linguists.

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