UW Today

June 2, 2014

UW experts offer free resources to help caregivers boost babies’ brains

News and Information

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences are well known for garnering headlines such as “Wise Beyond Their Years: What Babies Really Know” and “Raising a little genius.” Beyond doing the science, co-founders Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff have presented their findings at the White House and written a popular book on early childhood brain development.

Read more about I-LABS’ newly launched The Ready Mind Project.

Now their institute is doing even more to share its scientific findings on early learning. The UW group is offering a free online library to showcase the latest in how young children learn – and what their caregivers can do to help kids be ready to start school.

“We want parents, teachers, policymakers and others to know that everyday moments are special moments,” said Sarah Roseberry Lytle, director of outreach and education at the institute. “We give practical tips based on how our research shows young children learn and develop.”

The resources are one aspect of the newly launched The Ready Mind Project, funded in part by the Bezos Family Foundation. The project will use brain imaging, genetics, behavior development and more to discover how and when children learn as a way to gain insight on how to prepare them for school and boost their achievement.

The first four “online training modules,” which are also funded by Boeing, were posted in May. The goal, Lytle said, is to “give every child the best start in life and to create a generation of lifelong learners.” To help distribute the tools, Lytle and her colleagues have partnered with local and national groups, including Program for Early Parent Support, Thrive By Five and Save the Children.

“Our partners help give context to the research findings, since they know their particular audience,” Lytle said. “We know that the information a parent needs might be different than how a Head Start teacher might think about the same research.”

Most of the online modules last about 20 minutes. Through text, audio, video, photos, graphs and other visuals, researchers and caregivers in the videos demonstrate simple ways to insert evidence-based strategies for boosting children’s learning and social and emotional development into daily playtime.

For instance, in one video in the “The Importance of Early Interactions” module, a mother uses hand movements to act out lyrics while singing “Wheels on the Bus” with her son. Another video shows a father encouraging his child’s language development by joining in when the child points at an object and they say the word for it together.

“We want to show that the mother, for example, is engaging her son by singing and using hand motions and by being attentive to his interests,” Lytle explained. “And the father followed his son’s lead and imitated his actions and vocalizations to reinforce what his young son said.”

In another video, Meltzoff and actor Alan Alda show a little girl how to use unfamiliar objects. The two adults demonstrate how to use the items, such as flattening a collapsible cup, and then the toddler takes her own turn. The exchange shows how children quickly learn through example, relying on demonstration and eye contact rather than words to make the instructions clear.

The clip is part of the module “The Power of Learning through Imitation” and is taken from an episode of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, which Alda hosts.

“Babies are like sponges,” Meltzoff said in the video. “Adults in front of them just behave and the baby watches wide-eyed and does what they do.”

Lytle and the rest of the UW team will post more training modules in coming months on topics such as language development and children’s emotional understanding. She plans to ultimately have 50 to 60 modules available over the next five years and will update the resources as necessary to reflect the latest scientific findings.

“These online training modules allow us to communicate the latest science of child development in a new and exciting way,” said Kuhl, who’s also a UW professor of speech and hearing sciences. “Anyone who is interested can learn the latest about early brain development, and they can do it at 10 o’clock at night after the kids are in bed. We are excited to reach more early learning providers and families through the modules.”

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 For more information, contact Lytle at 206-685-4326 or sarahr28@uw.edu.

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