Parent-child math activities lead to development of child’s vocabulary skills

November 17, 2017

It seems intuitive that reading to a child will improve their literacy skills, but can engaging in math activities also impact vocabulary learning? The connections between home literacy activities, such as storybook reading, and language skills are well studied; however, relationships between cross-domain skills, such as numeracy and literacy skills, are not as understood. In a recent study at Purdue University, Human Development and Family Studies researcher, Dr. David Purpura, more closely examined home numeracy environment and child outcomes. 114 children were tested for literacy and numeracy skills in the fall and spring of their preschool year, and their parents were surveyed on how often they engaged in numeracy activities with their child. The various parent-child math exercises included counting objects, identifying written numbers, and using the terms ‘‘more” and ‘‘less.” Researchers found numeracy activities not only aided in the development of math skills, but also positively impacted vocabulary skills. This finding shows the ability of the home setting to prepare children for more formal learning in the future. The link could be due to the conversation that takes place when children are first exposed to math concepts. By incorporating more numbers and quantities in everyday interactions with children, crucial development can take place across math and literacy domains.


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Infants Can Learn the Value of Hard Work by Watching Persistent Adults

October 20, 2017

Can an infant pick up on your level of effort while you complete a task? It turns out that 15-month-olds are not only able to recognize persistence, but their behavior can also be influenced by observing persistence. In a recent study, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology had infants watch adults either quickly complete a task, such as removing a toy from a container, or struggle to complete this task. The infants then where given a toy that seemed like it could be turned on with a button, but  was actually disabled by the researchers. The study found that the group of infants whom had previously witnessed an adult have difficulty with a task pressed the button more times in effort to turn on the toy.  Just by seeing an adult work hard, infants can emulate that same grit in their own behavior. Researcher, Julia Leonard, suggests that instead of parents being pressured to make everything look easy in front of their children, showing hard work may positively impact children. The ways in which we model perseverance around infants and children is especially significant because persistence, even over IQ, is a strong predicting factor of future academic success.


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Kids Better Learn Moral Lessons from Stories with Humans, Rather Than with Human-like Animals

September 14, 2017

A major proportion of children’s media star human-like animal characters, but is this the most effective methodology for relaying moral lessons to children? A recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto focused on reading books with human characters, and books with anthropomorphic characters to examine different effects on learning. Both categories of books taught children ages four to six about sharing with others. The researchers evaluated altruistic behaviors before and after the book was read. The study showed that children were more likely to share after reading the book featuring humans when compared to the book with animal characters. Children seem to more easily pick up on concepts that realistically mirror their own life. This study shows the significance of learning techniques in the early cognitive development of children, especially with lessons of morality.


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Infant Naps are Linked to Learning Word Meaning

September 8, 2017

In the first months of life, infants are able to grasp relations between objects and co-occurring words. During this rich period of learning, does sleep help to strengthen object-word relationships? A recent study from researchers in Germany investigated this relationship in infants aged 6 to 8 months. They exposed infants to new object-word pairings and then measured their brain activity after the infants had taken a nap. The study found that sleep was indeed associated with semantic encoding of words in long-term memory. This was especially true during longer periods of stage 2 sleep, indicating length of a nap can play a significant role in infant learning. Researchers additionally found brain patterns known to occur in children and adults that improve memory during sleep, also occur in infants. An infant’s sleep provides the brain an opportunity to categorize and filter what they have been exposed to, enabling further development.


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Early Social-Emotional Functioning can Indicate Future Wellness

September 1, 2017

By pinpointing predictive characteristics observed in early elementary education, educators could positively influence children’s development into adolescence and adulthood. A large-scale 2015 study from researchers at Pennsylvania State University examined connections between social competence in kindergarten, and wellness in young adulthood. They measured qualities in children known as noncognitive skills, which include: interpersonal interaction, emotional regulation, motivation, and attention. Researchers have found that these characteristics serve as predictors for success in adulthood such as well-being, education, employment, crime, substance use, and mental health. These findings can beneficially impact school programs in providing early intervention for noncognitive skills in childhood, and to ultimately have lasting effects in adulthood. The study emphasizes the significance of social-emotional functioning, a subject that UConn KIDS researchers are also investigating.


Read the full study here

Insight Study: Helping Parents learn “responsive parenting” strategies

June 21, 2017

“Dr. Ian Paul, a professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, is one of the leaders of the Insight Study, an intervention which started in 2011 to look at the effects of helping parents learn “responsive parenting” strategies that help them read their babies’ signals…In the intervention, he said, parents learn to recognize what is actually hunger, since hungry babies, of course, need to be fed, and they also learn alternative strategies for soothing babies who are crying for other reasons. A baby who is distressed but not particularly hungry will calm down if given a sweet liquid, which Dr. Paul said could lead to problems later on.”

Read more about the study via The New York Times

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Addressing Grief and Scary News with Children

May 23, 2017

It seems that it is becoming a common occurrence for parents to have to discuss violent events of the world with their children. Even though, as a parent, you may try to shield children from learning about these events,  most children have some understanding of what has happened – children overhear as the details of en event are broadcast on our nightly news programs, pick up clues from adults in conversation, or by simply seeing images in magazines/newspapers.  In light of the most recent violent event in Manchester, England, we have decided to draw your attention to some resources to help in talking with your children about these events, as well as helping them to cope with grief, should an event impact you personally:

“Talking with kids about the scary news”

“How children grieve and how parents and other adults can support them”

American Academy of Pediatrics resource page on helping children cope

Do you think you or your child may benefit from therapy or other services in light of a recent event? CT 211

UConn KIDS Researchers Matthew Hall, Inge-Marie Eigsti, and Diane Lilo-Martin published

April 26, 2017

The researchers from UConn KIDS are always working hard and making awesome discoveries! The lead author on a new study, Matthew Hall, share a bit about what his newly published article is all about:

“For a long time, researchers and parents alike have observed that as a whole, deaf children seem to lag behind hearing children of the same age when in comes to “executive function”: a set of cognitive skills that help us flexibly deploy our cognitive resources to regulate our behavior and achieve desired goals. These skills are important predictors of school readiness & academic outcomes, so it’s important to figure out what’s causing these problems so that we can address them more effectively.  If the underlying cause turns out to be deafness itself, as has been proposed by previous studies, then providing early access to sound via hearing technology would be important. But if the underlying cause turns out to be a lack of exposure to language, then provided early access to *language* would be important, and it could be that sign language exposure is a more effective tool than spoken language.  This study addresses the issue of whether the deficits are better explained by access to sound or access to language.  We do so by looking at executive function in children who are deaf (no access to sound) but who are born into Deaf families where ASL is used from birth (full access to language).  This is where the two theories make contrasting predictions.  The results argue against the theory that sound is the critical factor, but are consistent with the theory that language is the crucial factor.  I do need to point out, though, that we can’t say that we’ve *proven* language to be the key.  It also remains to be seen whether deaf children from hearing families will show demonstrable benefit from early exposure to ASL: that’s what we’re hoping to address next.”

You can find the article in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. It was published in print in January of 2017.

UConn KIDS Researcher, Dr. Letitia Naigles, publishes a new article

April 17, 2017


Dr. Letitia Naigles, a UConn KIDS researcher, is interested in how young children aquire language. Dr. Naigles looks at language development in both typically developing children and children with autism. “My research focuses on the interacting roles of linguistic input and linguistic, cognitive, social, and neurological predispositions in children’s acquisition of word meaning, sentence structure, and discourse patterns” writes Dr. Naigles. One of her most recent publications in the journal Autism Research looks at how brain structure is associated with language ability in preschool-aged boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Dr Naigles’ findings  suggest that the strength of the connection between the occipital lobe, which processes what you see, and the temporal lobe, which processes what you hear, is greater in children with larger vocabularies.

The article was published online by Autism Research on March 16, 2017.

Sesame Street’s Newest Muppet and a look at Autism Awareness Month

April 6, 2017

A few weeks ago, Sesame Street announced the newest Muppet to join the show – Julia, who has Autism. In the United States, autism occurs in 1 out of every 68 births. With such a high prevalence, the addition of this new Muppet is refreshing.”We wanted to express some of the characteristics of autism in a positive way” and to break down “myths and misconceptions around autism,” said Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop’s vice president of outreach and educational practices.

We would also like to draw attention to an upcoming event: next week at the Connecticut State Capital is Autism Awareness Day. As UConn KIDS continues to do research on autism, will be attending. We hope to see you there!

All of April is Autism Awareness month, so visit for more ideas on how to get involved in raising awareness for autism.