Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Children who take naps are better able to process and retain new information in the classroom, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More from The Boston Globe:
In a study of 40 preschoolers, napping aided children’s ability to recall information they had been taught earlier that day. Children recalled 75 percent of the matches accurately after a nap, versus 65 percent when they skipped a nap.
“There was very little telling us about naps, the physiology of them— nothing to say they really had a function,” said Rebecca Spencer, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UMass Amherst. “I think policy-wise, teachers, in order to make the most of the research, need to know more about how to promote napping in the classroom.”
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, researchers taught children a game that resembled the popular game Memory, in which children have to match images with cards laid out in a grid pattern. They chose the memory task because it requires many of the basic skills preschoolers utilize when attempting other types of learning, such as learning the alphabet.
After playing the game, the children either napped or stayed awake. Later that afternoon, they were tested again, to see how much they remembered from the morning session.
A week later, the experiment was flipped. The children who had napped in the first experiment were kept awake, and those who had not slept.
The difference was clear, Spencer said, with those who napped recalling 10 percent more of the locations of the cards than when they did not nap. The researchers even checked the children the next day to see if overnight sleep had an effect, and found no difference in performance.
Spencer then brought some of the children into the laboratory and measured their brain activity while they slept. To her surprise, she found that the kids were not experiencing REM sleep associated with dreaming. She did, however, detect bursts of brain activity called sleep spindles that were associated with the most productive naps—the ones that helped children retain memory. In other studies, that type of brain activity had been associated with moments when the brain was most plastic and adaptable.
The study clearly suggests that napping may be a potent part of the learning process, but there was an interesting anomaly. Among children who were not habitual nappers, sleeping did not have an effect. That suggests to Spencer that as the children’s brains mature, perhaps they do not depend on the nap to consolidate their memories.
Image: Napping preschooler, via Shutterstock
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Friday, August 9th, 2013
A decline–small, but significant, experts say–in the obesity rate among preschoolers growing up in low-income family is offering a glimmer of hope that efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic may be working. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released news of the decline in a recent report. USA Today has more:
Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands had the largest absolute decreases in prevalence of obesity, with a drop of at least 1 percentage point, the report says. Obesity rates held steady in 20 states and Puerto Rico. They rose in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Researchers analyzed weight and height data of about 11.6 million children ages 2 to 4 in federally funded maternal- and child-nutrition programs. The data came from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System.
“Although obesity remains epidemic, the tide has begun to turn for some kids in some states,” Frieden says. “While the changes are small, for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction.”
Previous research has shown that about one in eight preschoolers are obese in the USA, the CDC says. Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than their normal-weight peers to be overweight or obese as adults.
“It’s great news, but it’s too early to say that I feel confident that we are securely on the path to improvement,” said James Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to public health.
The results are surprising, he said, “because of the speed at which the epidemic appears to be turning around.” The report shows “the highest-risk children in almost half of the states are getting healthier.” Marks, a pediatrician, is the director of the health group of the Princeton, N.J.-based foundation.
Image: Healthy girl, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 1st, 2013
The natural inclination of a child to use hand gestures in addition to verbal language may suggest a heightened cognitive maturity level, according to a new study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. Time.com has more:
In research published in the journal Developmental Psychology, preschoolers and kindergartners who naturally gestured to indicate what they were trying to do showed more self control, an ability associated with cognitive maturity.
The scientists came to this conclusion after testing children for their ability to sort objects according to changing criteria. Even adults have difficulty switching from one set of instructions to another, since the brain automates some aspects of learning to optimize efficiency. Once something is learned, however, it’s a challenge to unlearn and inhibit the reflexive response. That’s why it helps to develop good habits early — whether it’s a golf swing or eating a healthy diet. It’s easier to learn something correctly the first time than it is to unlearn ineffective techniques and relearn better ones.
In the experiment, 41 kids aged 2 to 6 had to place cards in trays. In one round, the tots first had to sort pictures of blue rabbits or red boats by color and then were asked to sort them by the object’s shape, regardless of color. In another game, they had to distinguish pictures of large or small yellow bears either by size or by whether teddy was right side up or sideways.
During the task, some of the children instinctively used gestures — making rabbit ears when they knew shape mattered, or moving their palms from facing up to turning sideways when they were sorting by the teddy bear’s orientation — to guide themselves.
“Our study shows that young children’s gesturing can help them think,” says the study’s lead author Patricia Miller, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. What’s more, she found that this effect had a stronger effect on successful performance than age — a powerful finding given that children’s skills improve rapidly with age during this stage of development.
Image: Child pointing, via Shutterstock
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Friday, July 19th, 2013
Preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) receive the same benefit from high-quality early intervention programs that are generalized or specialized, according to new research from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study, from the university’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) could potentially help educators control the costs of the numerous specialists who treat kids with ASD, without sacrificing the results and benefits that the interventions are known to have. More from ScienceDaily.com:
“We know that more children are being diagnosed with ASD each year, and that it can cost an estimated $3.2 million to treat each child over a lifetime. Understanding that a child can benefit from a high-quality program, rather than a specialized program, may help reduce those costs by decreasing the need for teachers and other school practitioners to be trained to deliver multiple specialized services,” Boyd said. He stressed it remains important to ensure educators are trained to provide high-quality programs that meet the special behavioral, communication and other needs of children with ASD.
Previous research has shown that when children with ASD have access to early intervention via treatment programs, they improve developmentally. Until now, however, debate has persisted over which approach to use, said Boyd. The study appeared in the June issue of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Two frequently used comprehensive treatment models have a long history: LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents) and TEACCH (now known only by its acronym).
FPG’s study examined the relative effects of the LEAP and TEACCH school-based comprehensive treatment models when compared to each other and to special-education programs that do not use a specific model. The multisite study took place only in high-quality classrooms and enrolled 74 teachers and 198 3- to 5-year-olds in public school districts.
The study found that children made gains over the school year regardless of the classroom’s use of LEAP, TEACCH or no specific comprehensive treatment model. “Each group of children showed significant positive change in autism severity, communication and fine- motor skills,” said Kara Hume, FPG scientist and co-author. “No statistically significant differences were found among models, which challenged our initial expectations — and likely the field’s.”
“This study may shift the field’s thinking about comprehensive treatment models designed for young children with ASD,” said co-author Samuel L. Odom, FPG’s director and the study’s principal investigator. “Perhaps it’s not the unique features of the models that most contribute to child gains but the common features of the models that most influence child growth.”
Image: Preschooler and teacher, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 15th, 2013
A preschool teacher from Morgan Hill, California has been fired–and arrested–amid allegations that she put sleeping pills in the sippy cups of kids who are not yet 2 years old. More from ABC News:
“We do not know the quantity, but we believe she was breaking the pill into smaller pieces and putting it into the children’s sippy cups,” Morgan Hill Sgt. of Investigations Troy Hoefling told ABC News.
The school told ABC News it had “terminated” Debbie Gratz, 59, last Friday “for failure to follow Kiddie Academy standards and processes.”
“Ms. Gratz was witnessed adding a substance to the water cups for her classroom of 10 children,” Morgan Hill Kiddie Academy added in a prepared statement. “The cups were confiscated before they came in contact with any children prior to the academy opening for business that day.”
A fellow employee saw Gratz place an unknown substance in the toddler’s sippy cups on Friday and notified school officials, according to Morgan Hill Police – though police apparently weren’t told until Monday.
“They made notifications internally. Unfortunately, the problem with that is not only do we not get on the case right away but we lose precious evidence,” Hoefling told ABC News. “We only found out those cups had been washed out and rinsed.”
Police said they had no plans to charge the school regarding the delay in reporting the incident, but the district attorney could review the matter.
Image: Sippy cup, via Shutterstock
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