Robots in preschool

When you hear the word, “technology” the first thing that pops into your head is probably a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, right? But, what about robots?

{Yes, I said robots.}

More and more early childhood learning centers are incorporating various robots into the classroom. This is a fairly new thing, but the available research on child learning has been very positive. From Bee-bots (that look like bees!) to DragonBots (small, soft, stretchy robots) to humanoid robots, benefits for language-learning, social skills, and attention have been found (see article for review).

The authors of this study examined the integration of humanoid robots into the curriculum to support 3-, 4-, and 5-year old children’s learning and development. Results suggested that despite the early childhood teachers’ and teaching assistants’ lack of experience in integrating this type of technology, they were enthusiastic about using the humanoid robot as part of the preschool curriculum. And, all of the students benefitted: presence of the robot resulted in increased talk, use of questions, eye contact, and other social skills such as turn taking and cooperation.

This is a small study, but paired with other, related research, the findings are encouraging; particularly, in considering the influence that a robot in the classroom or therapy session could have on a young child’s motivation and engagement. As we continue to incorporate more technology into our therapy sessions, use of a robot like the one included in this study may be another way to motivate young children who are reticent or may benefit from alternate learning modalities.

 

Crompton, H., Gregory, K., & Burke, D. (2018). Humanoid robots supporting children’s learning in an early childhood setting. British Journal of Educational Technology, 49(5), 911–927.

Screening for ASD? There’s an app for that!

Screening for autism in early intervention. From 16–30 months, we have the M-CHAT-R. What do you use beyond 30 months? The SRS-2 is an option now, but there is not a lot of research on how well it works yet. The SCQ starts at 4 years. And all of those are completed through parent report.

What if we had a screener that combined parent report with objective measurement, that could be administered on a parent’s smart phone? Enter Cognoa!

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This two-part screener, intended for ages 18–72 months, is contained in a mobile app. Parents answer 15 questions (similar to the M-CHAT-R or SCQ), and then are prompted to record 1- to 2-minute videos of their children in everyday interactions. The questionnaire is scored immediately, and the videos are reviewed by experienced clinicians for a rating score. All of those scores go into algorithms (yay technology) to determine level of risk. Results are then sent to the family, physician, EI team, etc. Kanne, et al. evaluated Cognoa against other screening measures like the M-CHAT-R, SCQ, SRS, and CBCL and found it to be comparatively sensitive and more specific than those screenings. In other words, Cognoa correctly flagged for ASD evaluation as well as the screenings we already use, and it had fewer false positive screenings. Not bad! Unfortunately, there is a downside. Currently, Cognoa is only really available for parents whose employers buy access to the screenings as a health incentive to their employees. In the meantime, we might have to stick with the measures we already know, but keep your eyes and ears peeled in case this app picks up steam!

 

Kanne, S. M., Carpenter, L. A., & Warren. Z. (2018). Screening in toddlers and preschoolers at risk for autism spectrum disorder: Evaluating a novel mobile-health screening tool. Autism Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/aur.1959

 

Hey, wait! This isn’t the only article on autism screening tools found this month! Janvier et al. found that a simple picture-based developmental checklist could successfully differentiate children with and without ASD among low-income, minority families. This screening tool, The Developmental Check In, may be a useful way to screen for autism among underserved children, particularly when parents are not native English speakers.

 

Janvier, Y.M., Coffield, C.N., Harris, J.F., Mandell, D.S., & Cidav, Z. (2018). The Developmental Check-In: Development and initial testing of an autism screening tool targeting young children from underserved communities. Autism. Advance online publication: doi: 10.1177/1362361318770430

What, who, when, or how: What matters in shared book reading?

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We all know reading books with our kids and clients is wonderful for language development, but what about shared reading makes it so beneficial to learning vocabulary? This meta-analysis included 38 studies to determine what elements of shared book reading contribute to word learning in typically developing* children ages 33 months–12 years. Good news, shared book reading works! The authors found that children learned almost half of the words they were exposed to during shared reading, but some factors seemed to matter more than others. For example, more exposures to target words was better for word learning, and a dialogic reading style helped children learn 1.22 more words on average than non-dialogic styles. In other words, interactive reading styles with many opportunities to hear and use new words contribute to word learning. No surprise there! What was surprising is that it didn’t matter who read the book. Across studies, children did just as well on word learning measures after shared reading with their parents as they did with researchers or teachers. And the length of time between reading and testing did not affect word learning, so either immediacy wasn’t an important factor for these children, or they retained knowledge of the words they learned during reading. So, if you aren’t already, try incorporating story books into your sessions, and include dialogic reading as part of a home program or coaching session!

*Note: This meta-analysis only included studies on typically developing children, but there are studies out there on implementing therapy techniques into dialogic reading: try here and here for some ideas, and here for more on dialogic reading!

This review appears in both our Early Intervention and Preschool & School-Age sections this month!

Flack, Z. M., Field, A. P, & Horst, J. (2017). The effects of shared storybook reading on word learning: a meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/dev0000512.