In her post, titled, “Get Kids Outdoors with Preschool Nature Education Tips for Teachers and Parents,” Williams Ridge discusses the benefits of nature education for preschoolers and how parents and teachers can enable children to have meaningful outdoor experiences.
Philip D. Zelazo, Ph.D., a Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), and Andrei Semenov, a child psychology doctoral student in ICD, recently presented at the Mindfulness in Education Summer Institute.
The summer institute is a community event hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. The 3-day event aimed to bring together teachers, researchers, clinicians, and practitioners to discuss mindfulness research and ways to promote practices that support wellbeing in school communities.
For the event, Zelazo delivered a keynote address that focused on how mindfulness practice has been shown to promote reflection and executive functions in children and adults.
Semenov’s presentation highlighted findings from curriculum evaluation conducted this past year. The novel curriculum, developed in collaboration with the Center for Spirituality and Healing, introduced mindfulness practice to a cohort of elementary school teachers in an effort to improve teacher wellbeing and promote mindful approaches to student-teacher interactions.
The program is sponsored by the UMN Department of Psychology and the College of Liberal Arts with support from ICD and the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development.
The Diversity in Psychology Program is designed for individuals who are historically under-represented in psychology graduate programs and who are interested in learning about graduate training in psychology, child psychology, and educational/school psychology at the University of Minnesota.
The program will feature a coordinated set of formal and informal experiences designed to familiarize participants with strategies for constructing successful graduate school applications, and to provide them with the opportunity to learn more about the experience of graduate education in UMN psychology departments.
To be eligible to apply, individuals must:
- be enrolled in a college or university as a junior or senior, or who have graduated within the last two years (i.e., 2015 or thereafter). Individuals currently enrolled in a terminal masters-level graduate program in psychology are also eligible.
- identify as a member of groups underrepresented in graduate training in psychology, including ethnic and racial minority groups, low-income backgrounds, persons with disability, LGBTQ+, military veterans, and first-generation college students or graduates.
Individuals must also meet one of the following criteria:
- be committed to pursuing doctoral training in either child psychology or educational/school psychology. OR
- be committed to pursuing doctoral training in psychology in one of the following programs of research offered by the Department of Psychology: clinical science and psychopathology; counseling psychology; cognitive and brain sciences; industrial/organizational psychology; personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics; quantitative psychology/psychometric methods; or social psychology.
College of Education and Human Development researchers contributed to a new study that suggests that patterns of brain activity in high-risk, 6-month-old babies may accurately predict which of them will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2.
The new study was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, and Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, were study co-authors. The study was conducted by the IBIS Network and funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Approximately one out of 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and their younger siblings are at a higher risk of developing the condition. “These findings need to be replicated, but that said, we are very excited about the potential to leverage cutting edge technology to advance the search for the earliest signs of autism,” Elison said.
For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brain’s functional connectivity – or how different brain regions work together – in high-risk, 6-month-old infants. The infants were considered high-risk because they have an older sibling with autism. Overall, 59 high-risk infants were included in the study. Eleven of the infants were diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old and 48 were not.
The researchers applied machine learning algorithms to the infants’ brain scans to identify patterns that separated them into the two groups. They then applied the algorithm to each of the infants to predict which infants would later be diagnosed with ASD. The algorithm correctly predicted nine of the 11 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD and all 48 of the infants who were not later diagnosed with the condition.
According to the researchers, if replicated, the results could provide a clinically valuable tool for detecting ASD in high-risk infants before symptoms set in. This in turn would allow researchers to test the effectiveness of interventions on a population of high-risk infants who have been identified as having a greater risk of ASD based on their brain scan at 6 months of age.
“The researchers will now try to confirm their findings in larger groups of children. But they already have provided proof of principle that it’s possible to detect ASD long before children show the first visible signs of the condition,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in a blog about the study. “The findings could pave the way for developing more cost-effective mobile neuroimaging tools, which might be used in early ASD screening.”
In February 2017, Elison and Wolff contributed to a separate study that used MRI scans of high-risk infants conducted at 6 and 12 months of age to accurately predict which infants would later meet criteria for ASD at age 2. The method used in the new study would only require one scan at 6 months of age.
“This is really interdisciplinary science at its very best, and I anticipate it will eventually lead to improved outcomes for children and families,” Wolff said. “The ability to predict autism in infancy opens the door for something that has long been improbable: pre-symptomatic intervention.”
Alyssa Palmer, a Ph.D. child psychology student in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), was awarded a 2017 Translational Summer Research Fellowship by the Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR).
ITR’s primary mission is to bridge the gap between research and practice in children’s mental health.
The fellowship aims to help graduate students pursue collaborative research projects on the development or expansion of evidence-based prevention or treatment interventions in children’s mental health. Palmer is one of four graduate students who was awarded a fellowship this year.
Palmer’s research will focus on parent self-regulation, parenting quality, and child behavioral outcomes in homeless families.
Sarah Suárez, a fourth year doctoral student in the Institute of Child Development, has been awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2017 academic year.
The $27,500 fellowship supports individuals whose research may advance the field of education. Suárez is one of 35 researchers to receive the fellowship this year out of more than 400 applicants.
Suárez’s dissertation focuses on how children develop an understanding of knowledge and how it relates to critical thinking, social learning, and self-control.
Angela Fenoglio, a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), recently received an award from the College of Education and Human Development’s Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC).
Founded in 2002, WPLC aims to raise visibility of women leaders in education and human development and provide financial support to women in educational leadership positions. Each year, WPLC makes several awards of up to $2,500 to graduate students to honor their achievement and leadership.
Fenoglio is currently a doctoral candidate working with ICD faculty Jed Elison, Ph.D., and Michael Georgieff, M.D. Her research focuses on the development of the “social brain.” In her work, she examines how atypical early experiences, such as premature birth, might affect the development of brain circuits involved in social skills like following a caregiver’s gaze or thinking about the beliefs and desires of others. The long-term goal of her research is to contribute to strategic prevention and intervention in pre-term infants and other populations at an increased risk of mental illness.
The Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) in the Institute of Child Development has received a $1 million grant from the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation to establish a center that will focus on reflective practice in infant and early childhood mental health.
Reflective practice is a professional development approach that encourages individuals to pay attention to relationships as they examine behavior and their responses to behavior. In the infant and early childhood mental health field, reflective practice asks practitioners to explore how they relate to the children and families they work with, who may be facing multiple challenges and risks. Practitioners engage in reflective practice in partnership with a supervisor or consultant.
The new CEED center will serve as an intellectual home for high-quality, cutting-edge research in reflective practice. It will also disseminate knowledge about reflective practice, help professionals incorporate reflective practice principles into their work, and inform policy dealing with infant and early childhood mental health. The center will be the first of its kind internationally.
“We are grateful to the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation for their support as we work to impact infant and early childhood programs and providers, both in Minnesota and across the country,” says Christopher Watson, Ph.D., IMH-E®[IV], director of the new center at CEED. “This generous gift will allow CEED to bolster its work in reflective supervision and to better support staff who serve families facing complex challenges. We look forward to carrying out this work in an effort to improve developmental outcomes for infants and young children.”
Rachel Boettcher, an alumna of the Institute of Child Development (ICD), is a 2017 recipient of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Alumni Society’s Rising Alumni award. Boettcher, earned a B.S. in early childhood education foundations in 2008 and an M.Ed. in early childhood education in 2015.
The CEHD Rising Alumni award recognizes alumni who have achieved early distinction in their career (15 years or less since graduation), demonstrated emerging leadership, or shown exceptional volunteer service in their communities.
Boettcher currently serves as program director of Caring for Kids at Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, where she is working to close the opportunity gap and provide access to high quality early education programs for children living in poverty. In her role, she partners with school districts and community agencies to increase investment in early learning.
“We are so pleased to see Rachel’s important work in securing high quality early childhood programming for families at risk recognized by CEHD,” said Ann Ruhl Carlson, M.Ed., coordinator of early childhood programs in ICD. “Throughout her budding career, she has used what she learned and practiced during her undergraduate and graduate programs in early childhood education to make a difference in the world.”
For the symposium, which was co-hosted by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, ICD faculty and staff presented cutting-edge research on play and discussed why it is critical to child development.
Presentations covered topics including play’s impact on a child’s understanding of math, how play influences the development of executive function, and how the Children’s Theatre Company is incorporating research into a preschool storytelling program. Each presentation was followed by a play-based activity that asked participants to explore what they learned.
Experts from the Minnesota Children’s Museum also provided a sneak peek of their new facility and exhibits, which will open to the public on June 7.
To learn more about why play is critical to learning and child development, read the following articles from Connect, the College of Education and Human Development’s alumni magazine.
Sydney Carlson, a senior majoring in child psychology in the Institute of Child Development, has been awarded a Fulbright-related U.S. teaching assistantship by the Austrian government.
Carlson is among 13 students and alumni from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to be awarded a Fulbright grant during the 2017-18 academic year.
Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946 to promote international good will through the exchange of students and scholars. The program awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries.
When she returns from Austria, Carlson plans to pursue an M.A. and specialist certificate in education and school psychological services from the Department of Educational Psychology.
Erica Smolinski, an undergraduate child psychology student in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), has received a $2,000 fellowship from the International Congress on Infant Studies (ICIS). This is the first year ICIS has awarded grants to support undergraduate student research.
The fellowship will support Smolinski’s summer research project, which will examine differences in how mothers imagine their unborn child and their relationship with the child, as well as how family planning may be associated with these differences. The project will leverage data from the Women and Infants Study of Health, Emotions, and Stress (WISHES), a study led by ICD doctoral student Colleen Doyle. Smolinski will be mentored by Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute.
Madelyn Labella, a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Child Development, has been selected to receive a P.E.O. Scholar Award. The P.E.O. Sisterhood is a philanthropic educational organization dedicated to supporting higher education for women. Labella was nominated for the P.E.O. Scholar Award by Chapter R of St. Paul, Minn., and was one of 100 doctoral students from across the U.S. and Canada selected to receive a $15,000 scholarship.
Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, was recently featured in a Spectrum article about his research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants whose older siblings have autism. Wolff worked with a national team of researchers, including Jed Elison from the Institute for Child Development, on the study. Wolff and colleagues found that the development of specific brain circuits may predict the severity of repetitive and sensory behaviors in infants who later develop autism.
In the article, Spectrum explains, “repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, are a cardinal sign of autism”, and “children with these severe repetitive behaviors often also have unusual sensory features, such as sensitivities to sounds or textures or an insensitivity to pain.”
Wolff expands on this. “They both (repetitive behaviors and unusual sensory features) seem to share a similar relationship with underlying neural circuitry,” he says.
This year, ASF awarded three pre-doctoral and six post-doctoral fellowship grants to student and mentor teams conducting research in deep brain stimulation, gene and environmental interactions, epigenetics, pain response, neurobiology, and sex differences in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“Each of the projects selected for funding has the potential to improve the lives of people with autism,” said Autism Science Foundation President Alison Singer. “We are pleased to support the work of this impressive group of young scientists and look forward to the progress that will be made as a result of their efforts.”
For her research, Sharer will examine the female protective effect in infants with ASD. Four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism, and evidence suggests a “female protective effect” as one explanation for the sex bias.
Sharer’s study will be the first study to investigate the female protective effect in infants who show behaviors of concern, compared with those who develop typically and those who are later diagnosed with ASD. Sharer will be mentored by ICD Assistant Professor Jed Elison, Ph.D.
Sheila Williams Ridge, director of the Shirley G. Moore Lab School in the Institute of Child Development, presented at the 2017 Children & Nature Network (C&NN) International Conference and Summit.
C&NN aims to connect children, families, and communities to nature through innovative ideas and evidence-based resources. The theme for the 2017 conference was, “Kids Need Nature, Nature Needs Kids.”
During the conference, Williams Ridge spoke about tailoring outdoor learning opportunities to children’s specific developmental needs, depending on their age. She also moderated a panel about best practices for nature-based learning in the early childhood field.
A recent article in CE+HD Connect magazine discussed research by the Center for Early Education and Development that is examining the effectiveness of a children’s theater program. The story is one of three articles about play that appear in the magazine’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue.
Early Bridges is a preschool theater arts outreach program developed by the Minneapolis-based Children’s Theatre Company (CTC). Early Bridges aims to build early literacy through interactive storytelling and theater arts.
Through a research collaboration with CTC, CEED evaluates Early Bridges’ impact, such as whether students show improvement in certain areas. CEED also has helped develop new measures and rubrics for the program, which incorporate both theater arts and child development theory.
To learn more about Early Bridges and CEED’s research, read the full story, “Setting the stage for learning,” or register for ICD’s Community Symposium on “The Importance of Play for Learning.” The symposium will take place on May 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center.
The Shirley G. Moore Lab School in the Institute of Child Development was profiled in a recent article in CE+HD Connect magazine, which highlighted the school’s focus on play-based learning. The story is one of three articles about play that appear in the magazine’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue.
To learn more about the Shirley G. Moore Lab School and how it incorporates play into its curriculum, read the full story, “Play lab,” or register for ICD’s Community Symposium on “The Importance of Play for Learning.” The symposium will take place on May 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center.
Ann Masten, Ph.D., Regents Professor and Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development in the Institute of Child Development, spoke at the 10th Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations (UN) on April 20, 2017.
Psychology Day at the UN is an annual event that highlights how psychological science and practice contribute to the UN agenda. It’s attended by UN staff, ambassadors and diplomats, non-governmental organizations, members of the public and private sectors, and other stakeholders.
This year’s theme was “Promoting Well-being in the 21st Century: Psychological Contributions for Social, Economic, and Environmental Challenges.” The topic was chosen to align with the inclusion of well-being in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015 and outlines the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In her remarks, Masten addressed the economic pillar by discussing her research on competence, risk, and resilience in development.
Ross Thompson, M.Ed., a teaching specialist at the Institute of Child Development’s Shirley G. Moore Lab School, has received the 2017 Kate Davidson Tanner Award from the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC).
MnAEYC is a professional association devoted to representing early child care and youth programs across Minnesota. The annual award recognizes an early childhood professional who demonstrates excellence in his or her profession.
In 2005, Thompson started his career at the lab school, where he completed his student teaching experience and held various roles for the following two years. He has been a full-time lead teacher for the school’s multi-age morning preschool class since 2007.