An Iowa State assistant professor and early childhood education student are monitoring individual toddlers in 10 different classrooms across central Iowa. Photo by Wyeth Lynch.
An Iowa State assistant professor and early childhood education student are monitoring individual toddlers in 10 different classrooms across central Iowa. Photo by Wyeth Lynch.

Iowa State study aims to improve classroom experience for toddlers

An Iowa State University professor and students are looking at why research shows that toddlers have the lowest quality classroom experience of any age group.

“We have more and more children having their first classroom experience earlier, and that’s where we have a pocket of low quality,” said Christine Maynard, an assistant professor in human development and family studies. “That’s a problem.”

At a time when policy makers are paying an increasing amount of attention to the quality of early childhood education, 40 to 50 percent of toddlers experience low-quality classrooms, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Early Child Care Network.

Maynard is leading a study about individual classroom experiences of children between 18 to 36 months. The researchers are observing children’s behavior in 10 classrooms in Ames, Ankeny, and Des Moines.

As part of the study, individual children are selected to be monitored and videotaped in a classroom over a 2-day period. Those same students are given an isolated 10-minute observed play period, called a “3 Bags Task,” with the teacher. Each of the 20 classroom teachers is observed, as well.    

“The end goal is to see how different children have different experiences in the classroom and what it means for their development,” Maynard said.

Undergraduate students gain research experience

Alexa Caldwell and Jackie Hand, both Iowa State seniors in early childhood education, are working with Maynard on the study. Caldwell, a participant in the Louise Rosenfeld Undergraduate Research Internship Program, said it has been an eye-opening experience.

Caldwell began working with Maynard in January. She recruits classes to participate, then enters the classrooms to observe and collect data.

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“It’s been great getting to go out to different child care centers and gaining new perspectives,” Caldwell said. “Being able to see the way different teachers interact and manage different classrooms has helped me gain so much knowledge.”

Maynard said she has enjoyed seeing the undergraduate students gaining new perspectives through their observation.

“What has been most exciting for me has been to hear them talk about how watching a classroom from the perspective of one individual child’s experience is so different from being the teacher,” Maynard said.

Room to grow

The study is funded for up to $10,000 by a College of Human Sciences untenured faculty seed grant, which allows the research to develop and potentially grow large enough to receive external funding. Gayle Luze and Kere Hughes-Belding, both associate professors in human development and family studies, act as senior advisors for this seed grant study.

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Christine Maynard

Six out of 10 classrooms have been observed so far. Once all 10 classrooms have been observed, the data will be analyzed and results will be drawn. Maynard said she hopes to have all 10 classrooms observed and the data analyzed by the end of the summer.

Maynard said her influence to study individual toddler experience came from teachers identifying that each student comes with a unique obstacle.

“The impression I was getting from teachers is that this wasn’t random,” Maynard said. “Once you have a group of kids who are having a systematically lower quality of experience, then you have a problem and you want to look for ways to fix it.”

KEY CONTACTS:

Christine Maynard, assistant professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University, 515-294-5061, maynard1@iastate.edu

Alexa Caldwell, senior, early childhood education, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University, alexac@iastate.edu

Jackie Hand, senior, early childhood education, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University, jmhand@iastate.edu

Matthew Leimkuehler, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-9424, hswriter@iastate.edu

  • Quick Look

    Christine Maynard, an assistant professor in human development in family studies, is researching the individual classroom experience in toddlers. Alexa Caldwell and Jackie Hand, both seniors in early childhood education, are assisting Maynard with the research.


  • “We have more and more children having their first classroom experience earlier, and that’s where we have a pocket of low quality. That’s a problem.”

    Christine Maynard