January 28, 2014

A Complex Field

by Emily Davis

Emily E. Davis ’15 studies Cognitive Science. In this post, she reflects on how her conception of the early childhood development field has evolved.

My interest in early childhood development stemmed from direct work with children: my years of babysitting and working in early childhood care settings. I was surprised when I first met and talked with other student participants in TRI-LabWait… You’ve never taken care of young children? Then what motivated you to be a part of this TRI-Lab? I found myself wondering. I was surprised that many students had such strong academic interests in areas relating to early childhood development without direct experience with children. For me, the personal interest came first, which led to my curiosity about and later academic focus on how children develop language.

Upon entering TRI-Lab, I had a narrow view of what it meant to be involved in the field of early childhood development. Throughout the first semester, my mind was broadened as I learned more about this complex field. On the first day of our retreat in August, I watched in awe as Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, sketched out, on a huge sheet of brown paper, a diagram of the early childhood arena in Rhode Island. I had not realized how many government organizations were involved. Nor did I realize the amount of advocacy work that goes on in order to enact policies to improve the welfare of children in Rhode Island.

During the first semester, we learned about many factors that affect early childhood development. While I was already aware that poverty had negative impacts on development, I was not aware of how huge these impacts are. I began to look at early childhood development from perspectives other than the purely cognitive one I was used to.

Most recently, in my small working group, we discussed possible project ideas to improve the executive function and language skills of young English Language Learners. While my mind immediately jumped to direct involvement with children: how about having Brown students volunteer to teach English in Spanish-speaking home day care centers?my group members had other ideas. The ideas included researching the reasons why Latino parents choose the childcare options they do, creating a policy brief on dual language learning and executive function, and advocating that new public preschools in Rhode Island be dual-language. Working with this group has taught me that there are many strategies for tackling a large issue.

While my interest in language development and my goal to work directly with children as a speech-language pathologist have not changed, my involvement in TRI-Lab has made me aware of the more “behind the scenes” work that is so important in the field of early childhood development.

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