Frequently Asked Questions

Research is invaluable to the future of our children for several reasons. First, it is extremely important in informing policies and laws, such as No Child Left Behind. When we perceive shortcomings within our governmental policies, research can fill the knowledge voids and help to make laws more relevant and valuable to families like yours. Research helps us learn from our past and make better predictions about the future of our children. It helps teachers and parents grow as caregivers, by showing us what works for kids and what doesn’t when it comes to raising happy and healthy children. Research can tell us how children learn and what practices are most beneficial to their health and well-being. Finally, research helps secure funding for programs that are directly beneficial to families, such as after-school care, youth groups, WIC and many others.

The purpose of this study is to tell the story of rural family life. It is not meant to interfere or be invasive; we want to see how children naturally develop in their homes. We hope to use this information to create more effective interventions to later help children and their families.

Officially our study has three project areas we are investigating. These are as follows:

Project I: Temperament, Psychobiological, and Cognitive Predictors of Competence among Children in Poor Rural Communities.

Lead by Principal investigator Clancy Blair, as well as Mark Greenberg, Doug Granger, Mike Willoughby, Emily Werner, and Janean E’guya Dilworth-Bart.

The development of self-regulation in early childhood is understood to be foundational for later cognitive and social development and early success in school. However, knowledge of relations among cognitive and social-emotional aspects of self-regulation in childhood and the relation of child characteristics and early experience to developing self-regulation is quite limited. Project 1 has assessed temperament (with physiological measures of cortisol and heart-rate, infant-toddler observations, and parent and observer report) throughout the first three years of life. We believe that these early temperamental differences will be related to the development of executive functions (EF) of inhibitory control (impulsivity), working memory and planning skills. In turn, both temperament and EF skills will predict both early success in schooling as well as the development of early behavioral problems by parent and teacher report. Thus, this study will examine the pathways through which temperament (infancy/toddlerhood), executive functions (from ages 2 to 6), and early behavioral and cognitive competencies lead to pathways that a re predictive of both school failure/success. In combination with measurements of the family from Project III and measurement of language and emergent literacy in Project II, this project can contribute unique information about the relationships among these constructs from birth through second grade.

Project II: Learning in Context: Family, School, and Extracurricular Influences on Low-Income, Nonurban Children’s Literacy Trajectories.

Lead by Principal Investigator Lynne Vernon-Feagans, along with Robert Pianta, Margaret Burchinal, and Ann Crouter.

There is growing recognition that early school achievement, especially in literacy is critical for later school success. Further, school success is the product of a) prior language and cognitive skills and experiences before formal schooling; b) the nature and quality of the contemporaneous classroom instruction in the early grades; c) parenting experiences in the home, and d) outside school activities. No previous studies have prospectively examined these issues for children in nonurban low-income communities...Careful measurement of the proximal processes in the home from Project III , child EF in Project I, and language, school, classroom, and out of school experiences will be obtained as they contribute to literacy skills and academic success in the first three years of school. Particularly important in this project is the measurement of the quality of childcare/ Head Start experiences from birth through school age through actual observation of the care setting, the observation and transcription of bookreading experiences in the home by both mothers and fathers, and the observation of the quality of instruction in the elementary school classroom as children make the transition to formal schooling. Unique to this project is the documentation of children’s activities after school that may provide support for activities and social relationships in school. This project, in conjunction with the measurements from Projects I and III will be able to understand the early precursors to school success as well as the role of current instruction in children’s early learning.

Project III: Family Processes in the Transition to School in Poor, Rural Communities.

Lead by Principal Investigator Martha Cox, PI; Keith Crnic, Vonnie McLoyd, Patricia Garrett-Peters, and Roger Mills-Koonce.

Poverty is associated with stress and increased risk for poor child outcomes in the transition to school. Poverty is likely to disrupt family processes that are critical for establishing early childhood competencies associated both with cognitive and social-emotional development and success in school. Project III will test a developmental systems model of family process links to child social, emotional, and academic competencies. By combining our assessments of family processes with measurements from Project I (child characteristics) and Project II (child language and classroom contexts), we can address unique and critical questions about children’s development in rural poor areas. It is of particular importance to note that the study has measured both parental substance use (retrospectively in the prenatal period and prospectively since child age 6 months) as well as mother’s report of depression and sense of competence.

The funding for this study comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Development, a part of the federal governments National Institute of Health.

  • All of our staff have state and federal clearances, including the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, FBI background check and the Pennsylvania State Police criminal record check (PATCH).
  • Staff TB testing is up-to-date.
  • All of our staff have extended experience working with children, many have experience working in schools and some have even been teachers themselves.
  • Forty to fifty hours of training at each time point, consisting of:
    • Reading training manuals
    • Observing, learning and practicing individual tasks
    • Making certification tapes and/or live certifying on individual tasks
    • Observing, learning and practicing whole visits
    • Live certifying on home visits
    • Cross-site videoconferencing (between Penn State and UNC)
    • Cross-site travel for training and observation

To read more about our staff, explore the FLP staff page.

We can be contacted by our toll free 800 number, or via email. See the contact page for details.

Existing research provides important information about families and children living in large urban environments, but relatively little is known about how families and children are influenced by living in smaller cities, towns and rural areas. It is important that we focus on families in these rural areas because the differences between urban family life and rural family life can be striking. Also, literature suggests that following kids over time is the best method to find out which characteristics of the environment help children become successful and which characteristics could potentially be harmful. In order to have complete and rich data we must have continued participation by our recruited families.

Since we can’t recruit new families, once a family has agreed to participate, they cannot be replaced. This is why your involvement is so vital to our research study.

Unfortunately, no. We are following only all of our participants over time who have been with the study from birth. The information that we acquired during these past years is the foundation for our future research questions. Since the most recent information we gather builds upon data we’ve collected at previous visits, it is essential that we work with the same families throughout the entire project.

For our Pennsylvania families, if you or anyone you know wants to join another research project go to this website for more information: FIRSt Families

Yes, we do. All videos are kept at a secure site on campus and can only be viewed by researchers involved with data analysis. As we have been issued what is known as a "Certificate of Confidentiality" from the federal government’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, we can protect the privacy of the families in the study. As such, the researchers involved with this study, and any data collected, cannot be compelled or required to be released in any Federal, State, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative or other proceedings which would expose participants to negative outcomes of any kind.

Your participation is voluntary. You are free to refuse or skip any part of the visit and/or questions at any time. Your participation in this research is completely confidential; you will only be identified by a subject number. Data is kept secured and only researchers involved with data analysis have access to the information collected.

As we have been issued what is known as a "Certificate of Confidentiality" from the federal government’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, we can protect the privacy of the families and schools involved with this study. As such, the researchers involved with this study, and any data collected, cannot be compelled or required to be released in any Federal, State, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative or other proceedings which would expose participants to negative outcomes of any kind.

In general, we would like to learn more about young children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. For this part of the project, our research is geared toward determining the factors that are important for social and academic competence in the early elementary years, particularly for children who may be "at-risk" due to poverty and/or living in rural settings. While a child’s own traits and abilities and their family environment are some factors that influence a child’s development, there are also factors that are related to the child’s school setting that may help predict his or her ability to succeed. Therefore, we are very interested in learning about characteristics of children’s school classrooms and of their teachers themselves. Your school, along with many others, is an important partner in collecting much-needed data to help us better understand children growing up in rural areas.

Our data collectors will visit the classroom of each child once to observe the child’s day to day environment. The FLP staff will also schedule a subsequent visit, at a time that works best for the teacher and child, to gather data from the child one-on-one. Currently we plan to visit the child and school every school year. Currently we are funded through 2nd grade.

The FLP staff will contact you before any visit to arrange a time convenient for you and the child. At the beginning of the visit, the data collector will provide consent forms and a brief overview of the visit.

  • The data collectors will observe the classroom for one hour.
    • School visitors are there to simply (and quietly) observe the normal classroom activities. The observation will give us insight into the classroom environment and help us understand how it relates to child development. Our goal is to see a typical day and to be as "invisible" as we can in your classroom.
  • One hour with each study child
    • We will be doing basic tasks related to social and emotional competence and general intelligence.
  • Questionnaires
    • You will fill out information about you, personally, and your experience as a teacher
    • Teachers will also answer questions about their pupils and their behavior in the classroom.

To see what research FLP has done so far, explore the Home Visit Summary page.

We will only contact you if we already received parental permission.  Typically families consent the year prior to the visit.  The FLP staff will provide copies of that form to the school administrator for the district's files.  At the end of the visit, we give the child a letter to bring home to their parents so they know we visited with them that day. 

Your participation is voluntary. You are free to refuse or skip any part of the visit and/or questions at any time. Your participation in this research is completely confidential; you will only be identified by a subject number. Data is kept secured and only researchers involved with data analysis have access to the information collected.

As we have been issued what is known as a "Certificate of Confidentiality" from the federal government’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, we can protect the privacy of the families and schools involved with this study. As such, the researchers involved with this study, and any data collected, cannot be compelled or required to be released in any Federal, State, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative or other proceedings which would expose participants to negative outcomes of any kind.

There are no known risks that would result from participation in this study. The information gained from this study will not benefit you, your school or the children you work with directly. This study will benefit the fields of child development and education, as well as social policy-makers, by allowing us to learn more about how schools and teachers can promote social and academic competence among at-risk children.

We know teachers are quite busy with what is truly important, educating the children in your classroom We sincerely appreciate your assistance. Teachers who participate in the project will be compensated for their time with a gift card for classroom supplies as well as a gift card for each child questionnaire that they complete.