Feb. 25-March 2, 2000
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Council created to further gender equity at U.Va.
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Curry School to continue study of local families and children as part of large-scale national effort

Leffler announces interdisciplinary programs in media, Jewish studies
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TOP NEWS

Curry School to continue study of local families and children as part of large-scale national effort

Stephanie Gross
Eight-year-old Kathryn, one of the children participating in Curry School professor Robert Pianta's study of child development, works on a questionnaire about playmates with recent U.Va. graduate Sarah Antos, a lab visit coordinator.

By Ida Lee Wootten

The Curry School of Education has received significant federal funding to continue its partici- pation in the nation's largest long-term study investigating children's development.

The National Institute of Child Health and Development has awarded U.Va.'s Curry School more than $2.5 million over the next five years to continue its study of children in approximately 120 local families who have been followed since birth. The funding, which began in January, allows the researchers to continue chronicling the lives of children of the 1990s into the 21st century.

The investigation began in 1991 to determine the effects of child care experiences on young children from birth to age 7. The study, which is following more than 1,100 children nationwide at 10 sites, has examined a wide variety of issues related to young children's needs, including anxiety over separating from mom or dad, effects of day care, and factors influencing school success in the early grades.

The new funding allows researchers to expand the long-term project to investigate the numerous factors that influence child development in elementary school and through early adolescence. They will focus on gathering data on third- and fifth-grade students and their parents through home visits, school observations, laboratory interactions, phone interviews with children and parents, and questionnaires with teachers in second through fifth grades.

"By observing children in their third- and fifth-grade classrooms, the study will provide an unprecedented snapshot of elementary schools across the country," said principal investigator Robert C. Pianta, professor in U.Va.'s Curry School.

"We are studying all factors related to child development, including pubertal development. The information we gain should be important in understanding children as they begin adolescence," he said.

The study will examine children's academic, social and psychological development by studying multiple factors influencing their environment, including parents' work, the home and family, the neighborhood and community, school and out-of school settings, and socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

The research will focus on three principal areas of child development: achievement and cognition, social and emotional growth, and health.

"The funding allows us to examine several major factors influencing children in third and fifth grades -- a major transition period in which peers begin to play major roles in children's lives," Pianta said.

"The grant allows us to broaden the study to look at children's physical activity and health -- an important new area of investigation for us because of the possible correlation between physical activity and self-esteem," he said.

In an effort to better understand how development may differ in boys and girls, the researchers will also investigate gender differences.

From this study Pianta hopes to learn about four new areas of information: the interplay between children's early and current experiences; the extent to which social, cultural and economic differences influence children's development; the ways in which family and peer experiences contribute to children's risk-taking and resilience; and the relationships between parents' work and family life and the well-being of parents and their children.

"In our previous work, family factors accounted for the highest proportion of differences among children. It will be interesting to see if that finding holds or if peers and schools begin to play a more prominent role," Pianta said.

In the nine years since the study began, the findings of the Charlottesville-area families have been consistent with those at the other research sites. Among the findings so far:

  • High quality, stimulating child care is related to slightly higher performance on young children's cognitive and language measures.

  • Children in care for more than 10 hours per week performed better on cognitive and language measures when the quality of the caregiver-child interaction was taken into account.

  • The higher the quality of child care in the first three years of life, the greater the child's language abilities are at 15, 24 and 36 months.

In an analysis of the regulatory factors pertaining to child care, such as child-teacher ratio and caregiver training, the researchers found that the quality of child care is higher when child care settings meet more higher standards.

"Our research shows that state regulations play a major role in supporting high-quality day care," Pianta said.

In addition to directing this study, Pianta is also leading the U.Va. site in the federally funded National Center for Early Development and Learning. That study is investigating the processes related to children's successful transitions into the early grades.


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