Kansas UCEDD Collaborates to Launch Web-based Program to Train Teachers to Promote Social and Emotional Infant Development

May 19, 2010

Website Link  http://www.lsi.ku.edu/

In an ideal world, children of working parents spend their days with loving caregivers who instinctively respond to their developmental needs. The reality: millions of infants and toddlers in the U.S. spend their week in child-care settings where their social and emotional development is often unsupported.

Now a University of Kansas researcher will, for the first time, train teachers in child care centers to promote the social and emotional development of infants. Directed by Kathleen Baggett, PhD, assistant research professor at the Life Span Institute, the grant will address what decades of research have shown: infants whose social-emotional needs are unmet are less likely to be ready for school and more likely to have social-emotional problems throughout the lifespan.

Baggett said infants and toddlers are the fastest-growing group of children in child care.  According to a 2008 survey by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, nearly 11.6 million infants and toddlers in the U.S. spend 35 hours a week or more in child-care settings. Yet efforts to promote school readiness have focused almost exclusively on children ages 3 to 4 despite the fact that researchers know that achievement gaps can surface much earlier. "Of growing concern is the lack of adequately trained early child-care teachers coupled with growing numbers of young children with social-emotional problems," Baggett said.  "Intervening earlier is better than later. Waiting for children to fail means opportunities are lost to prevent early delays from becoming future disabilities."

Baggett and colleagues at KU, the Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, Ore. and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will develop and field-test a web-based training program where coaches in Kansas will work virtually with teachers in Kansas and Oregon. This approach goes right to the heart of what has plagued attempts to train child-care workers in the past, according to Baggett.

"Typically there has been a 20-year lag between when training programs are created and when they are implemented in the field with consistency and accuracy," Baggett said. "Our web-based program will be developed with feedback from key child- care stakeholders, including parents, and will allow us to test the feasibility of real-world implementation of the program in child-care centers."

The project is based on a pilot study by Baggett and colleagues showing that in-home web-based training is effective in helping mothers improve the social and emotional development of their infants. That web-based program, Infant-Net, will be refined in the current study for child-care teachers.

"Quality is a huge concern in child-care centers today," Baggett added. "We know that particularly in times of economic crisis, when families may be struggling in piecemeal employment, the need for consistent high-quality child care is especially great. The field desperately needs to implement training programs for those who work with the very youngest children in child care."

The Life Span Institute is one of the largest research and development programs in the nation for the prevention and treatment of developmental disabilities. The institute includes 13 centers and more than 140 programs and projects located on the Lawrence and medical center campuses and in Kansas City, Overland Park and Parsons.

Tips from KU researcher Kathleen Baggett on how to tell if a child-care provider is promoting the social-emotional development of your infant or toddler:

Caregivers individualize care and play routines for each child

  • Caregivers ask parents about child routines at home and show a commitment to following them.
  • Infants eat on their own schedule, diapers are changed as needed rather than on a fixed schedule, infants are soothed in different ways and not all toddlers must sit in circle time.

Caregivers engage socially with infants and toddlers throughout the day during regular routines

  • Caregivers make eye contact, smile, and talk to children during diapering and feeding about what's happening (what the child sees, hears and feels).
  • Caregivers engage in positive social conversation with toddlers at mealtime.

Caregivers model positive social behavior throughout the day

  • Caregivers talk with other adults in positive, respectful and encouraging ways
  • Caregivers are close by and attentive during free play. They talk about their own feelings and the feelings of others to model how to manage emotions.
  • They talk aloud about how they solve simple problems and take care of their own feelings in positive ways.

Caregivers encourage positive social behavior throughout the day

  • Caregivers are close by and attentive to children's interests during free play. They notice what children are looking at, reaching for, or already playing with and encourage that.
  • Caregivers look for ways to get children engaged in play and activities.
  • Caregivers encourage children who are engaged in pro-social behavior (smiling, asking for something, taking turns, etc.) rather than commenting on and drawing attention to inappropriate behavior.
  • Caregivers use positive guidance by telling children what to do more often than telling them what not to do.

Children seem happy, content, socially engaged and interested in exploring their environment.