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CECE Student Researcher Receives Two Prestigious Research Awards

Allison Lundy portraitAllison Lundy, Undergraduate Researcher at the CECE, was awarded two prestigious research awards this month to recognize and support her Honors thesis, “The Association Between Outdoor Motor Play and On-Task Behavior in Learning Experiences in Preschool.” Lundy, a junior Honors student studying early childhood education and psychology, is the only recipient of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Education Division’s Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Award for 2019. This award is given annually by the CUR Education Division to honor high-quality undergraduate research in the learning and teaching sciences that, “will have an impact on professional practice [in] the classroom, school, or community.”

Lundy has also been named the inaugural recipient of the Jeffrey and Nancy Trawick-Smith Early Childhood Undergraduate Research Fund, which supports students who are conducting scientific, empirical studies on young children within the Center for Early Childhood Education that “will yield practical knowledge in early education and development and, thus, promote the well-being of young children and their families.” The fund was created by the Trawick-Smiths to provide opportunities for undergraduates to gain research knowledge and skills by assisting with research and travel expenses to present at national conferences.

Working with her mentor, Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Professor Emeritus in the Center for Early Childhood Education, Lundy is studying the effects of active play on the playground on the on-task behavior of preschool children during indoor learning experiences. “Allison’s study will be the first to examine, in a controlled way, the effects of such play on the ability of young children to pay attention and regulate their own behavior in the classroom,” Trawick-Smith states. “Her findings will elucidate important areas of inquiry in the psychological sciences and early childhood education and are clearly publishable.” 

Lundy has found the research experience to be transformative. “Conducting undergraduate research has been very rewarding,” she states. “Through this experience, I have developed and strengthened my critical thinking, communication, writing, and presentation skills. Undergraduate research has also given me the opportunity to work alongside former faculty member, Dr. Trawick-Smith. His vast knowledge of young children is incredible. In working with him, I have learned so much not only about my own area of study, but early childhood education as a whole.”

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New Video on Building Children’s Background Knowledge: Using Money in Dramatic Play

Preschool children sit at a table and cut out play money from green paperIn this new video in the Teaching Strategies series, preschool teacher Karla Alamo describes how she helped children develop an understanding of money to enhance their experience in the new dramatic play center. By allowing them to explore real money and supporting them in creating play money, Karla ensured that children had the background knowledge needed to fully participate in the classroom’s grocery store.

Watch Building Children’s Background Knowledge: Using Money in Dramatic Play.

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TIMPANI Toy for 2018 Revealed

Bottle Clix, aka Magz Clix: A set of colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped piecesEastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced on December 4th that “Bottle Clix” (now sold as “Magz Clix”) by Magz® has been named the 2018 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.

The annual study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. Toys are placed in preschool classrooms at the University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers use hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Faculty and undergraduate student researchers then code the footage according to the study’s evaluation rubric, which includes four subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization. 

For this year’s study, researchers also investigated how teachers introduce new play materials into their classrooms and the effects of those introductions on children’s play quality. To study that effectively, it was important to select toys that had similar characteristics, so researchers selected eight construction toys to study. 

Bottle Clix/Magz Clix received the highest overall score in this year’s study and was the highest-scoring toy in the social interaction subscale. The toy includes colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped pieces that can be connected side-to-side or stacked. Children were often seen stacking the pieces in very tall towers. According to Morgan Winship, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, “That was a huge problem that they had to solve together. How were they going to get high enough in order to stack them when the towers were taller than them? They needed to interact and help each other.”

Children were also observed using the Bottle Clix/Magz Clix to create microphones, rocket ships, and guitars with their peers. “It provided them the opportunity to express themselves open-endedly through object transformations and play narratives,” said Allison Lundy, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study. “I wasn’t expecting this toy to score the highest, because it didn’t really seem like there was much to do with them. But watching the videos, I was surprised to see the different ways that children utilized them.”

According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and former Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, toys that appear simple to adults often inspire some of the highest quality play. “We’ve found over the years that toys that are quite basic and can be used in multiple ways do very, very well.” He also noted that like many construction toys, this year’s TIMPANI toy consists of many small parts, which leads to more social interaction and problem-solving. “Children need to coordinate their activities with peers as they’re building with them.”

Notably, Bottle Clix/Magz Clix also held children’s attention over time. “With many toys, we see high quality play the first day that it’s in the classroom, but then the play quality wanes over time,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study. “But with this toy, we actually saw an improvement in play quality the second week that it was in the classroom.” Bottle Clix/Magz Clix was the highest-scoring toy for Hispanic children, and for children from families with high levels of financial need.  

The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, DC, on Nov. 14. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families. The investigation on how teachers introduce play materials will continue for another year; results are expected in late 2019.

For more information about the TIMPANI Toy Study and to watch a video featuring high-scoring toys from the 2018 study, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/

 

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Former Endowed Chair Establishes Undergraduate Research Fund

Nancy and Jeffrey Trawick-SmithProfessor Emeritus Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, the CECE’s first Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, has established a fund with his wife Nancy to support undergraduate research in early childhood education. The Jeffrey and Nancy Trawick-Smith Early Childhood Undergraduate Research Fund will support students who are conducting scientific, empirical studies on young children within the Center for Early Childhood Education that “will yield practical knowledge in early education and development and, thus, promote the well-being of young children and their families.” The fund was created by the Trawick-Smiths to provide opportunities for undergraduates to gain research knowledge and skills that will be invaluable to them as they pursue careers in a data-driven, evidence-based world of work.

Recipients of the award may use the fund for research materials, summer stipends, and/or travel to professional conferences to present findings. Students must work with a full-time faculty mentor and follow all CECE research guidelines. Read more about the fund and CECE research guidelines.

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New Video: Incorporating Math Into Gross Motor Play

Preschool girl filling dump truck with blocks sorted by colorIn this new video in the Reflections from the Field series, preschool teacher Jessica Abildgaard incorporated a sorting activity in an obstacle course using toy trucks to suit her student’s developmental needs. In order to prepare her students for kindergarten, she wanted to strengthen their numeral identification and sorting skills while incorporating gross motor play. When combining physical movement with toys, she expresses how an activity similar to this can increase student’s mathematical enhancement in fun and creative ways. Watch Incorporating Math Into Gross Motor Play.