New initiative will research early childhood developmentInfluencing policy-makers one goal of innovative program
By William Harms
An innovative program to study early childhood development and policy has been established at the University of Chicago with a two-year, $875,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation.
The program, known as the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Initiative on Early Child Development and Policy, will take a multidisciplinary approach to studying early childhood learning. The project promises to bring new insights to understanding the ways children develop language, learn about mathematics and acquire many other skills and concepts.
"The initiative will conduct basic research on the biological, psychological and social factors affecting the cognitive development of young children," said Janellen Huttenlocher, the William S. Gray Professor in, and an organizer of, the program. "We'll also develop a strong interdisciplinary network of scholars working in this field at the University."
An additional goal of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Initiative on Early Child Development and Policy is to communicate the results and policy implications of basic research on child development to key non-academic audiences.
"The University of Chicago is renowned for its cutting-edge research in many disciplines that affect our lives," said Denise Carter-Blank, director of education programs for the McCormick Tribune Foundation. "And the foundation is pleased to support this early childhood research initiative that will have implications for the way practitioners, policy-makers and parents act to further brain and cognitive development in young children."
The initiative coincides with researchers' increasing awareness of the effect of a child's environment, especially during the early years, on brain development and cognitive growth. The goal of the initiative is to augment the University's ability to contribute to this area of research.
The University has had a long history of research in early childhood development.
Huttenlocher's work, for instance, examines the effects of family and school environments on language development. Susan Levine, Professor in Psychology, also an organizer of the initiative, looks at the impact of educational environments on the development of mathematical skills in preschool children.
In addition to Levine, Huttenlocher will be joined by three other faculty members with a special interest in early childhood development: Peter Huttenlocher, Professor in Pediatrics; Dolores Norton, the Samuel Deutsch Professor in the School of Social Service Administration; and Amanda Woodward, Assistant Professor in Psychology.
Peter Huttenlocher studies the development of brain regions associated with growth in learning, and Norton is researching language development of low-income African-American children. Woodward focuses on the development of early social knowledge in infants and toddlers.
To bring the results of their work to a wider audience, the faculty members intend to organize a speaker series, to be inaugurated in the spring.
The McCormick Tribune Foundation is one of the 50 largest foundations in the country, with assets of more than one billion dollars. The foundation awards grants for journalism, early childhood education and citizenship programs. The foundation also has more than 40 partner funds in 17 U.S. cities, which award grants to a broad range of organizations.