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Last update: 2/18/08

[University of Wisconsin-Green Bay News Release]

For Immediate Release:

February 18, 2008

UW-Green Bay invites families to participate in
toddler-development study

Science is child's play at new UW-Green Bay lab.

GREEN BAY - Green Bay-area parents of children ages 18 months through 3 years are invited to take part in a major new study of toddlers' skill and language development getting under way at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Participation will entail a single trip to the University for a 30- to 45-minute session in which the parent will gently guide his or her child through a few simple play exercises. The session will be observed and documented by a University researcher. Each child will receive a toy or book as a small parting gift.

What sorts of things will be observed? Seemingly little things, they nonetheless hold potential clues on early-childhood development:

When do toddlers start saying "feet" instead of "foots"?

Do color or shape play a role in helping children learn categories (i.e., a category such as "dog")?

How much does what parents say make a difference as toddlers learn language?

Assistant Prof. Jennifer Zapf directs the new Language Learning Lab at UW-Green Bay. In opening the doors on the project, she hopes to involve both campus and community in what will be Green Bay's first in-depth study of how children learn the meaning of words.

"At birth, babies neither understand nor produce language, but yet within three years they are nearly proficient in their native language," says Zapf, a developmental psychologist. "It's amazing, and science is still only beginning to understand how this happens."

Zapf joined the UW-Green Bay Human Development faculty in 2007 from Indiana University, where she assisted with IU's nationally renowned cognitive development laboratory.

She says community participation will be vital to the Green Bay project and to the creation of a local database to be used to study how young children learn language and acquire new skills.

"I have two children myself, ages 3 and 1, and of course they'll each take a turn," says Zapf. "We also expect that other employees and returning adult students with young children will be interested. But we really do need large numbers at least several hundred children to make our studies more representative."

Parents won't receive any sort of individual analysis of their children's session "This isn't about comparing, or assessing where any one child is with regard to development" but Zapf says she intends to eventually summarize cumulative findings for participants through a parents' newsletter or web posting.

The Language Learning Lab ties in with the University's "connecting learning to life" theme in that it will involve undergraduates in significant research. Human Development and Psychology are among the University's most heavily enrolled majors, and Zapf will draw from among these and others in recruiting research assistants. She has five assistants this semester.

The project will be ongoing, meaning parents have the option of scheduling their visit for this spring, summer or even fall semester. To learn more, contact Jennifer A. Zapf, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Human Development and Psychology; University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Drive, MAC Hall C310; email, phone 920-465-2490. Parents can sign up online at the project website,

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08-32 | Contact: Christopher Sampson, (920) 465-2527

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