Eastern Connecticut State University
Center for
Early Childhood Education
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Past Research Conducted by

the Center for Early Childhood Education


TIMPANI Toy Study 2010

Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Huihiu Yu (student), and Eliza Welling (student)

Summer – Fall 2010


This study looked at how children interact with toys in their play with the purpose of identifying which toys best engage children in intellectual, creative, and social interactions in preschool classrooms. Toys were selected for study inclusion based on recommendations from parents, teachers, and faculty. After an initial screening by the TIMPANI Advisory Committee to determine the appropriateness of recommended toys, each toy to be studied was placed in a preschool classroom for three days. During that period, a remote video camera records children’s activities for two 30-minute periods during the “free play” part of the day. One video was taken the day the toy was introduced; the second video was taken two days later. Videos of each toy were studied and rated using a faculty-developed instrument (raters achieved 95% inter-rater reliability on the instrument). Scores were tabulated to determine which toys received the highest ratings on three subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, and self-expression and imagination. The highest-scoring toy in all areas for 2010 was Melissa and Doug’s Wooden Vehicles and Traffic Signs.   

Learn more and see a video about the study.


Reliability and Validity of an Instrument to Measure the Effects of Toys on the Cognitive, Creative, and Social Behaviors of Preschool Children

Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Heather Russell, and Dr. Sudha Swaminathan

Spring 2009


Although previous research has explored the effects of various environmental influences on young children’s play, the influence of toys has rarely been examined. This paucity of toy studies is due to a lack of a scientifically-constructed observation system to evaluate the impact of play materials across developmental domains. The purpose of this study was to develop and test the reliability and validity of such an instrument. An 8-item, 5-point rating system was constructed, based on previous toy research. To establish inter-rater reliability, two researchers independently used the instrument to rate the effects of 23 toys on the spontaneous play of sixteen preschool children. There was a high level of agreement between observers (r = .81 to .88, across items). A factor analysis was conducted to identify clusters of items that measure like dimensions of play effects; three distinct factors were identified: thinking/learning, creativity/imagination, and social interaction. To establish validity, the instrument was used to rate 5 common toys that could be predicted, based on earlier work, to have distinct influences on play. The instrument was found to discriminate among these toys in ways that are consistent with previous research and that make theoretical sense. The uses of this instrument in both future research and classroom practice are discussed.


Drawing Back the Lens on Play: A Frame Analysis of Young Children's Play in Puerto Rico

Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith

Summer 2009


Previous research on young children’s play has focused narrowly on behaviors that are highly valued in Western societies. The purpose of this study was to draw back the lens on play—to examine a broader range of early childhood pastimes that are more common and meaningful to children of color. Using Bateson’s work on play frames, the play behaviors of 49 four- and five-year-old children from Puerto Rico were observed, described, categorized and analyzed over a six month period in two classrooms in San Juan. Children were found to play in very large groups. Rarely-studied play behaviors were identified: music play, humor/teasing, replica play, and art play. Commonly studied play forms, such as pretend and construction, were also common, but were often observed in unexpected locations and embedded in other, primary play activities, making them difficult to identify and evaluate. Findings suggest that professionals should observe and assess children’s play through a more inclusive lens, evaluating and facilitating all types of play, in all areas of the classroom, at all times of day, and in naturalistic peer groups with no groups size limits. Play centers and materials should match the unique play interests of children across cultures.


Read a white paper related to this study.


Digital Video Documentation as a Reflective Tool for Enhancing Children's Mathematical Understanding and Reasoning

Dr. Sudha Swaminathan and Patricia Gardner

Spring 2008


This study examined the effects of digital video documentation and re-visiting on young children's mathematical skills. Preschoolers' math-based interactions were captured as digital video clips by the researcher. Edited clips were re-played to individual children, with the classroom teacher scaffolding their reflection with prompts and comments. After 3 months, all preschoolers showed a significant growth in their math abilities, as measured by TEMA (Test of Early Mathematical Ability). Children also showed significant growth in their abilities to reason mathematically. These reasoning behaviors revealed (for the most part) a strong imitation of the logic, language and gestures modeled by the teacher during her scaffolding. Children continued to demonstrate these behaviors during off-study activities and during natural peer interactions. The study validates the use of digital video technology and re-visiting in the classroom. More pertinently, it underscores the essential value of the teacher's continual and appropriate scaffolding. Results also suggest that classroom teachers should gradually elevate the level and sophistication of their own scaffolding behaviors and verbal prompts to match the growth in the children.


"Good-Fit" Teacher-Child Play Interactions and the Subsequent Autonomous Play of Preschool Children

Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith and Traci Dziurgot

Spring 2006


The researchers completed a six-month study of the ways preschool teachers interact with young children during classroom play activities. Using the Center’s elaborate recording, archiving, and editing technology, they captured and studied over 1500 separate video clips of teachers responding to children’s play needs. They found that when the play support provided by teachers matched the amount and type of support that children needed, on-going play became more complex and autonomous. When there was a mismatch between what children needed and how teachers responded, children were less likely to continue playing independently.


Untangling Teacher-Child Play Interactions: Do Teacher Education and Experience Influence Good-Fit Responses to Children's Play?

Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith and Traci Dziurgot

Spring 2006


In a study of teacher-child play interactions, 1500 video clips of teachers intervening in children’s play were analyzed to determine the “goodness-of-fit” between child play needs and teacher responses to them. In this secondary analysis, researchers examined whether experience and education level would affect teachers’ accuracy in choosing intervention behaviors that matched the need for support in play. Experienced teachers with master’s degrees were found to engage in more good-fit interactions. In interviews, they identified a variety of ways that content and pedagogical knowledge from coursework interact with experience to enhance effective play intervention. Assistant teachers with experience, but only associates or baccalaureate degrees were somewhat less accurate in selecting good-fit interventions. Student assistants who were just beginning baccalaureate degree programs were least likely to match their behaviors to children’s play needs and engaged in more poor-fit interactions than the other two groups. Interviews suggest that high education/high experience teachers were more likely to consider overall purposes and long-term outcomes of intervention.


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