Past Projects

Parent Attitudes toward Text4Baby Service

Research on language development suggests that children from low-income families hear nearly 30 million words less than their higher income counterparts (Hart & Risley, 1999; Hart & Risley, 2003). We were interested in parent perceptions of two mobile interventions designed to support parents’ engagement with their young children as a way of reducing this gap and improving child outcomes. To better understand participants’ opinions of these services, we conducted a total of eight focus groups with participants from Text4Baby and Univision Contigo in two different U.S. cities in both English and Spanish. We hope that our findings shed light on the opportunities for mobile technology to reach and support all families by modelling and encouraging specific parenting behaviors.
 Text4Baby was a collaboration with Too Small To Fail and the Clinton Foundation.


Young Children’s STEM Learning from Media

Measuring with Murray: Touchscreen technology and preschoolers’ STEM learning

Early exposure to STEM-related concepts is critical to later academic achievement. Given the rise of tablet-computer use in early childhood education settings, interactive technology might be one particularly fruitful way of supplementing early STEM education. Using a between-subjects experimental design, we sought to determine whether preschoolers could learn a fundamental math concept (i.e., measurement with non-standard units) from educational technology, and whether interactivity is a crucial component of learning from that technology. Participants who either played an interactive tablet-based game or viewed a non-interactive video demonstrated greater transfer of knowledge than those assigned to a control condition. Interestingly, interactivity contributed to better performance on near transfer tasks, while participants in the non-interactive condition performed better on far transfer tasks. Our findings suggest that, while preschool-aged children can learn early STEM skills from educational technology, interactivity may only further support learning in certain contexts.

What STEM topics are represented on Children’s STEM TV? A Content Analysis of Programming on U.S. Television

Early learning of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is important for developing children’s interest and achievement in these disciplines (Watts, Duncan, Siegler, & Davis-Kean, 2014). Considering that children can learn science and math from educational television (Fisch, 2014), it is important to understand what science and math topics are present in television shows for young children. We analyzed 20 U.S. children’s programs that were described as STEM programs and assessed their depictions of STEM content based on math and science learning standards. The results demonstrate that STEM television programs for young children frequently represented foundational math and science topics, such as “scientific practices,” “living things,” and “working with numbers,” but represented others skills, such as “energy,” “forces,” and “natural hazards,” less often.

Teachers &  Media Technology in the Classroom

The Center on Media and Human Development is examining data collected by the Fred Rogers Center and the National Association for the Education of Young Children to understand teacher attitudes and use of technology in their classrooms. Findings have been published in Computers & Education as well as “Technology in the Lives of Teachers and Classrooms,” a report for the Fred Rogers Center.

Food Marketing to Youth Across TV, Websites, Video Games, and Apps

Children’s media have historically been rooted in characters—from Mister Rogers and Big Bird to Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. Unlike any previous technological age, however, children now encounter these characters across media platforms, including television programs and advertisements, computer games, video games, and mobile apps. In some cases, food and beverage companies use branded or licensed media characters to promote their products to children across these platforms. This character-based marketing practice may be particularly influential when it comes to children’s food and beverage preferences in the real world. Although media characters populate all aspects of children’s lives, little is known about the underlying reasons for why character-based marketing may influence children’s food preferences and consumption patterns. For example, who exactly are the media characters used in marketing to children? And why are certain media characters able to persuade children to prefer and to consume specific foods and beverages? To answer these questions, the Center on Media and Human Development is working in collaboration with the Children’s Digital Media Center on an NSF-sponsored project that examines food marketing to youth.

Teaching Reproductive Health through Media

As part of an NICHD grant, we currently are conducting formative research in support of a series of educational video shorts that will teach preadolescents about puberty and human reproduction. We recently held focus groups with 7- to 12-year-old children as a part of this effort. Children were asked about their experiences learning and understanding of reproductive anatomy, puberty, menstruation, and conception, as well as their attitudes towards preliminary materials from that might be used in the show. Children in this age range receive formal sexual education in 5th and 7th grade, and informal lessons from family members and peers. Despite recent increases in access to Internet and federal funding for formal sexual education, these children were just as uninformed about these topics as youth were in the 1980’s and ’90’s. That said, children around the age 10 were very receptive to the idea of watching a high quality series of educational shorts centered around these topics. Another wave of formative testing will take place in the Fall.

Prompting Parent Engagement with Text Messages

We assessed whether a service that delivered parenting tips via text message could prompt mothers and fathers of children enrolled in Head Start to engage in more learning activities with their 0- to 5-year-old children (N ≈ 300). Parents liked the texting service and reported engaging children in many learning activities. We believe delivering some educational content via cell phone may allow intervention service providers to consistently reach a greater number of parents in a way that is enjoyable and convenient for parents and cost-efficient for programs.

Media Technology at Home and the Role of Parents

The Center on Media and Human Development conducted a nationally representative survey of parents of children ages 0 to 8-years old.  The “Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology” report was released in June 2013 at the Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology conference held in Washington, DC.

Race & Media Use

The Center on Media and Human Development was launched in June 2011 with the release of a report titled “Children, Media, and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American Children” which was presented at the Lambert Family Communication Conference: Children, Media, and Race: Exploring the Implications of Racial and Ethnic Differences in Media Use Among Children and Youth.

Quality Media for Young Children

As part of an initiative started by the Fred Rogers Center, the Center on Media and Human Development is working to aid in the creation of quality media for young children framework.