UConn KIDS program and other departments conducting research on child development

A child playing with blocks. The University of Connecticut Kids in Developmental Science program is a new program focusing on childhood development. Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

The University of Connecticut Kids in Developmental Science program connects with many departments to conduct research focusing on childhood development.  

Founded in Dec. 2013, UConn KIDS currently comprises 35 labs throughout campus. Originally, the departments of psychological science, linguistics, human development and family sciences and speech, language and hearing sciences made up the core group, which does a lot of work pertaining to developmental study. The program was then expanded to include the departments of nursing, kinesiology, education and communication.  

Professor Letitia Naigles, who teaches psychological sciences on campus and serves as one of the founders of UConn KIDS, said she enjoyed seeing the growth of the program and the coordination between departments on campus.  

“I think this is a real, rich component of UConn’s research, that we have researchers in a number of departments who are studying children,” said Naigles.  

When a researcher and their respective department wishes to join UConn KIDS, they must first contact Naigles and discuss their ideas for research. Every project supported by the program must have an approved human subject protocol, and it goes through UConn’s Institutional Review Board  before researchers can recruit and study child subjects.  

Coordinators then play a vital role in dividing control areas like schools or age groups to provide balance and eliminate disorganization.  

Currently, the kinesiology department is conducting a “play and move” study to look at how communication and motor development are connected and if social communication can be facilitated through fun but intense motor games.  

Researchers are working with children with down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism because these are conditions which are characterized by motor difficulties and communication difficulties. The kids engage in music, dance, and yoga activities. Some activities have social communication components like talking and storytelling, while others involve muscle stretching, strengthening, and improving endurance.  

Since the studies being conducted are done on kids from birth to age eighteen, parental consent is explicitly needed. Parents are given the option the option to observe studies being done at schools, but when they are done at UConn’s labs, the parents must be there for consent purposes. Around five, participants begin to give verbal assent, and at 10, they are asked to sign their own consent. 

Naigles said the program loves to have returning parents. Often, families will participate in studies at one age, but will sign their children up for more at later ages, which provides mutual help for both parties.  

“They’re helping by participating in research, we’re helping them by shedding light on the things their children can do that they didn’t realize,” said Naigles. 

Sara DeAngelo, the Child Research Recruitment Coordinator for UConn KIDS, said she loves to bring research to fruition through developing a strong recruitment database. This database connects families in the community to research labs which assist in giving parents and children a better understanding and appreciation for human development.  

“I like working for UConn KIDS because it gives me the opportunity to connect with families, teach the public about what child development really is, and how it helps to make a positive difference,” said DeAngelo.  

Professor Naigles encouraged students part of a UConn KIDS-affiliated department to volunteer. Students must either be in the honors program or part of a UConn KIDS-affiliated lab to be eligible. Prospective volunteers should go to the UConn KIDS website and check out the section containing the list of researchers and their departments. They should then reach out to researchers whose work they are interested in.  

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