Child’s play: College students learn toddlers’ language

language400Human Development and psychology are among the University’s most heavily enrolled majors. Assistant Prof. Jennifer Zapf calls upon a select group of these students each semester to serve as research assistants.

The students are helping with Zapf’s Language Learning Lab at UW-Green Bay. They work with children ages 18 months through 3 years to study toddlers and language development.

“Our students are so excited,” Zapf says. “They’re seeing the same things in these 2-year-olds — that children understand way more than they can say — that they’ve been reading about in their courses.”

The Language Learning Lab is currently looking for local parents interested in having their children participate in the study. (See news release.) Parents who volunteer are asked to make 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 is observed and documented by a University researcher. Each child receives a toy or book as a small gift.

Language Learning Lab
Zapf (shown above, center, with last year’s student volunteers) says the Language Learning Lab, now in its second full year of operation, has allowed her and her student assistants to make significant observations about toddlers’ abilities to learn words and grammar.

“Our understanding of early language development continues to grow,” she says. 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.