Frequently Asked Questions - General

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.