KU researchers will join in a five-year, $4 million project to improve measures of child development.
Tools to assess how well a child is developing in relation to the average youngster are well-formulated for children 5 to 8 years old.
"Comparable work hasn't been done at younger ages," said Charles Greenwood, director of the Juniper Gardens Children's Project at Kansas University.
Armed with a $4 million federal grant, Greenwood and researchers at universities in Minnesota and Oregon intend to create a measurement system that applies to children from birth to age 8.
The project will focus on motor and social skills, independence, reasoning and communication of young children.
"The significant part of this is that we're going all the way down," Greenwood said. "We're trying to identify important indicators of growth from birth to age 8, ones that caregivers, parents and teachers can use to gauge the kind of care and instructional programs they are providing children."
Behavioral scientists at KU will receive nearly $1 million during five years to develop measures that apply to children from birth to age 3.
The Minnesota team, which is leading the project financed by the U.S. Department of Education, will focus on children ages 3 to 5. Oregon researchers will concentrate on those 5 to 8 years old.
Researchers at Juniper Gardens will handle KU's portion of the work. The tasks include such things as devising vocabulary measures.
A child should add words to his or her vocabulary at an accelerating rate after the first year of life, Greenwood said. The measuring tools KU researchers develop will allow frequent testing of children to check their progress.
For purposes of this study, groups of parents nationwide will provide researchers with ideas about behaviors they feel are important to assess at each age.
Greenwood said input would help the university researchers to focus on areas that go beyond what scholarly literature defined as important.
Past research at Juniper Gardens has indicated development at each age level affects subsequent progress in learning.
In one study, KU scientists discovered preschool children on welfare had one-third the vocabulary of other preschoolers. Low vocabulary foreshadowed poor performance in elementary school.
Other KU researchers on the five-year project are Judith Carta, Jane Atwater and Dale Walker.