Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.

 

“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.

 

“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

Eastern Education Students Present at New Mexico Conference

Caroline Perry (bottom left) and Morgan Winship (bottom right) and their research mentors Niloufar Rezai and Jeffrey Trawick-Smith attend the National Coalition of Campus Children’s Centers conference in Albuquerque, NM.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Connecticut State University students Caroline Perry and Morgan Winship presented research at the National Coalition of Campus Children’s Centers conference in Albuquerque, NM, this March 15–17. Their presentation was titled “Authentic Experiences with Families: Impact on Pre-service Teachers’ Knowledge and Dispositions.”

“The essence of this research was to find out how positive family-teacher communication can strengthen a classroom’s interpersonal environment,” said Perry, who hails from Wilton and majors in early childhood education and English. “Family communication is such a large and integral part of a classroom teacher’s role, however there is minimal preparation for this component in education certification programs.”

Under the mentorship of Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, professor of early childhood education, and Niloufar Rezai, director of Eastern’s Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC), the students were tasked with developing strong relationships with families of children enrolled at Eastern’s CFDRC preschool. They did this by maintaining communication with children’s families, going on a home visit, planning a family event at the CFDRC, and more. 

“This pushed us to go outside of our comfort zone and be in constant communication with families from the classroom that we were interning in,” said Winship, who hails from Monroe and majors in early childhood education and psychology. “Until this course, I never realized how important it is for teachers to develop relationships with parents. Home life and school life affect each other; teachers and parents need to know how a child is doing in both environments.”

To assist with day-to-day communication, the students experimented with a mobile app called “Remind,” which enabled them to capture moments throughout the day and share them directly with parents.

“This app became my main resource for communicating with my focus child’s family,” said Perry. “It’s really important to keep families updated and involved with their child’s school day. It also offers families a way to get in touch with you (the teacher) beyond an email address.”

Conducting home visits was another major component of the project. “When you visit families in their home you see so much more,” said Winship. “This helps you better understand the child and better connect your curriculum in order to make learning more meaningful to them.”

Reflecting on their experience, Perry said, “We found that family communication is such a valuable resource for creating meaningful learning experiences for children. If you support your students’ families, they will support you. Together, you become a strong team with a shared interest: their child’s success.”

Having successfully presented at the conference in New Mexico, the students and their mentors now aim to publish their results in the “Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.”

Eastern Student Research Lends Insight into Dual Language Learning

Eastern student Stefanie Dominguez ’18 of Glastonbury (right) presents her research

Written by Anne Pappalardo

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/05/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University student Stefanie Dominguez ’18, an Early Childhood Education and Communication major, recently had her research thesis published in the Early Childhood Education Journal. The highly-ranked, refereed journal analyzes trends, policies and practices in early childhood education for children ranging from birth to age eight. The publication serves the needs of early childhood practitioners including classroom teachers, child care providers and teacher educators.

A Glastonbury resident, Dominguez is a research assistant at Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) and an Honors Program student. Her thesis, titled “A Qualitative Study of the Play and Dual Language Learners in Preschool,” is one of the first to document social interactions of low English-proficient preschoolers, referred to as Dual Language Learners (DLLs), in classrooms. The paper addresses distinct verbal and nonverbal social behaviors utilized by DLLs with low English proficiency when playing with peers in English-speaking preschool classrooms. Dominguez’s research investigated how DLL social behaviors differ from those of English-speaking children during play interaction. She also observed social interactions among DLLs compared to formal assessments of their involvement with peers and teachers during play.

“As an Eastern Honors Program student I was required to write a thesis,” said Dominguez. “I’d always wanted to write an education-based thesis. I worked with Early Childhood Education Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith on my project. I feel it is a very important field and that my work could be helpful to teachers and students.”

Last year Dominguez was asked to work on research projects with Trawick-Smith and Professor Sudha Swaminathan, as well as CECE Director Julia DeLapp.

“Part of the research required assessing the math knowledge of preschool students. Because I speak Spanish, I was assigned to test the children who spoke Spanish at home so that we could accurately test their math knowledge – not the understanding of the English questions. Through that research, and after talking with the professors, I devised my thesis topic – the social and emotional development of children who speak languages other than English at home,” said Dominguez.

“I found it interesting to see just how different the experiences were for DLLs and their English-speaking peers. I was surprised to see how often DLLs experienced ‘teacher-assisted interactions’ compared to their peers. Seeing how seldom DLLs were able to successfully interact with peers without a teacher’s help was surprising and made me really want to educate teachers. The DLLs were perfectly capable of playing with each other and having sustained play behaviors, but they often needed a teacher to help them get the interaction started. Knowing this can change how teachers interact with our classes and our students on individual levels.”

According to Professor Trawick-Smith, “There are not many undergraduate students who can say they have produced a work that will have an international impact on the thinking in a whole field of study. Yet Stefanie has done just that by addressing a research question which has simply not been asked or answered in previous work. Hers is the only investigation I know of that describes and analyzes the naturalistic interactions of DLLs in preschool. Perhaps Stefanie’s most important finding is that DLLs can interact with peers in positive ways in preschool classrooms if they receive a certain kind of support from their teachers. Her work indicates yet another way in which the preschool teachers play a vital role in promoting the well-being of young children.”

In November Dominguez also presented her thesis research at the National Association for the Educators of Young Children (NAEYC) conference in Atlanta. NAEYC is a professional membership organization that promotes high quality early learning for young children through age eight by connecting early childhood practice, policy and research. She also presented her research to the staff at Eastern’s Child and Family Development Resource Center as part of professional development. Professor Trawick-Smith is using her research in his Families and Cultures course.

“I think undergraduate research is beneficial for students because they have the opportunity to explore a field that most undergraduates are not usually able to access while still pursuing a bachelor’s degree,” said Dominguez. “The ability for students to perform undergraduate research tasks at Eastern also helps them to form stronger relationships with professors outside of a typical classroom setting and provides them with opportunities to travel and share their knowledge with others in their field,” added Dominguez.

Dominguez has presented previous research projects at Eastern’s annual Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern conference held each April and plans to present research there again this year. “Stefanie is already receiving national attention from this project – an invitation to present at a national research forum on children’s play in Atlanta and requests and inquiries from around the country for information about her work,” added Trawick-Smith.

Dominguez is interested in pursuing a master’s degree in special education, and possibly a second master’s degree in deaf education. She wants to become a teacher in a hospital for children who are unable to attend traditional school due to medical problems that keep them in a hospital setting.

Her favorite thing about Eastern? “The size – I was walking in the Student Center one day and the assistant dean came up to me and congratulated me on my publication. He knew me, my name and my accomplishments. That doesn’t happen at large schools. I have formed amazing relationships here at Eastern that I will keep with me once I leave this May.”

 

Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education Reaches 1 Million on YouTube

Julia DeLapp (standing, left) and Niloufar Rezai (right) show a video to preschool children that recaps the various videos produced by the CECE over the years, many of which contain footage from Eastern’s own preschool classroom located at the Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC). DeLapp is the director of the CECE and Rezai is the director of the CFDRC.

Written by Casey Collins

WILLIMANTIC, CT (02/22/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) has reached a milestone on its YouTube account- passing one million views this February. The YouTube channel, “EarlyChildhoodVideos,” has been active since Jan. 29, 2013, and has posted more than 125 videos produced by communication students, research assistants and CECE faculty.
The CECE first began producing video content independently from the Internet, beginning with, “Guiding Young Children’s Behavior” in 2006. The video, which was developed in part with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, was intended for preschool teachers in U.S. Navy child development centers. Eventually the CECE made the move to the web, creating its own site in 2008 and simultaneously releasing one of it’s most popular videos to date, “Five Predictors of Early Literacy.” The center has since seen its videos aired in more than 200 countries, and have received six Telly Awards for technical excellence in video production. The Telly’s have been giving out awards to the most outstanding producers in film and television for 39 years.
“Knowing that our videos are being used to train teachers around the world is amazing,” said CECE Director Julia Delapp. “We have viewers in Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Kenya. That is what I’m most proud of.” When asked about the future of EarlyChildhoodVideos, Delapp responded, “We really want to make more videos about the arts, music, social-emotional development… There’s just so many topics I would love to cover.”
The Center for Early Childhood Education is a multidisciplinary research and training institute at Eastern. Opened in 2007, the center is housed in a high-tech facility connected to Eastern’s model early care and education program. The center works to enhance the quality of early care and education by conducting innovative research, disseminating findings, providing professional development opportunities and developing training videos.

Holmes Program at Eastern Develops Minority Teachers

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Eastern Reveals 2017 TIMPANI Winner

•The Animal Kingdom Mega Pack by Animal Planet has been named the 2017 TIMPANI toy of the year.

• The Animal Kingdom Mega Pack by Animal Planet has been named the 2017 TIMPANI toy of the year.

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced on Dec. 6 that “Animal Kingdom Mega Pack” by Animal Planet has been named the 2017 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.

Now in its eighth year, the annual study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. Ten toys were selected this year for the study by teachers, faculty and student researchers. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms at the University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Researchers then coded 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 coded nearly 8,000 five-minute observations.

•Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, discusses the study during the TIMPANI press conference.:

• Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, discusses the study during the TIMPANI press conference.:

“Undergraduate research is a strength of Eastern’s liberal arts education,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez, “and the TIMPANI toy study is an outstanding example of students conducting faculty-sponsored research of the highest level on our campus. For the past eight years, our early childhood education students have observed children at play with a variety of toys, and have developed an annual criteria-based evaluation of what toys are best for the cognitive, social, and creative development of young children. Parents, preschool educators and others across the globe are turning to Eastern for guidance on how best to support children’s play. In the process, our early childhood education students are learning to conduct empirical research of the highest quality.”

The Animal Kingdom Mega Pack received the highest overall score in this year’s study. It also scored the highest in three of the four subscales: creativity and imagination, social interaction, and verbalization. It was the highest-scoring toy for both boys and girls. It also scored highly for children from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. “This was a toy that inspired high-quality play by children of all different backgrounds,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study.

•Children enrolled at Eastern's Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC) play with the tool in the preschool classroom

• Children enrolled at Eastern’s Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC) play with the tool in the preschool classroom

DeLapp noted that research studies such as the TIMPANI toy study are not available to undergraduate students at most colleges universities, but are essential elements of an Eastern education. The result, as she explained, was that early childhood education students are well prepared for graduate school and the workforce because of the professional experience that research projects provide.

The 2017 TIMPANI Toy, which includes plastic animals from a variety of habitats, is an example of a “replica play toy.” According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, replica play toys provide important opportunities for children to engage in symbolic, make-believe play. “When children are playing with these kinds of toys, they have to do something beyond just becoming a make-believe character themselves. They actually have to project themselves into the role of an animal. This takes what some researchers call a ‘greater symbolic leap’ from reality to the make-believe play theme.”

Trawick-Smith said toys such as the “Animal Kingdom Mega Pack” have been played with for centuries. “Even children in Ancient Rome have been recorded playing with little replicas of animals and people.”

As Dominique McLean, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, noted, “The animals were an open-ended toy that allowed children to bring their prior knowledge into their play narratives. They collaborated with their peers to create habitats and to sort the animals.”

Nicole Green, an English and elementary education student involved in the study, said that the study made clear to her how important play is for children’s learning. “I saw many important life skills that were being taught as children were playing with each other, and I think that those need to be fostered even as they get a little older and move into elementary school.”

Other students involved in this year’s study were researchers Amanda Terenzi, a social work student, and Stefanie Dominguez, a communication and early childhood education student. Ayla Heald was the student editor for this year’s video, with student Emily Parsons providing additional support for the study.

The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Atlanta, GA, on Nov. 15. 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.

To see today’s press conference on the TIMPANI Toy of the Year, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRHzF_sUnP4

For more information on the 2017 TIMPANI Toy of the Year, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/, or contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687 or visit www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/.

Previous TIMPANI toys include Plus-Plus® by Plus-Plus® (2016), Wooden Cash Register by Hape (2015); Paint and Easel (easel by Community Playthings), and Hot Wheels Cars by Mattel (2014); Magna-Tiles by Valtech!, and My First Railway by Brio (2013); Duplo Blocks by LEGO (2012); Tinker Toys by Hasbro (2011); Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).

* * * * *

Disclaimer: The TIMPANI toy study does not consider, nor does it test, the safety of toys. The study makes no claims about the safety of any toy studied. Neither the Center for Early Childhood Education nor Eastern Connecticut State University is liable for any mishaps related to the use of toys mentioned in study findings. Concerns about any toy listed in the study findings should be directed to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.