Two P&N faculty teams receive ABC Thrive Seed Grants to improve early childhood outcomes

ABC Thrive logo

All Babies and Children Thrive (ABC Thrive) has awarded seed grants of up to $40,000 to four interdisciplinary teams of Duke faculty, two of which are teams from the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience. The teams will explore new interventions to support positive early childhood development ranging from tools for earlier identification of children at risk for neurodevelopmental challenges, to methods for teaching young children prosocial behaviors, to improving outcomes for black children and families through early care interventions and new teaching methods.

At the end of a successful pilot project, these teams will be eligible to compete for a larger award of up to $300,000 over two years.

Promoting Care: Mindfulness and Compassion-based Contemplative Training for Early Educators and Preschoolers

Research has suggested that prosocial behavior (behavior intended to help others) and feelings of social connectedness enhance the health and well-being of even very young children. However, children don’t always respond with kindness for others and can show favoritism starting at an early age. The emergence and persistence of these exclusionary actions can be shaped by caregiver behavior.

This project will test the potential for using the Call to Care (C2C) program to improve prosocial behavior in preschoolers. C2C is a professional development program for elementary school teachers developed by the Mind & Life Institute to nurture the caring capacities of teachers and introduce activities that will strengthen a child’s natural capacity for compassion.

By using C2C with children as young as three, this study will test the feasibility of using the C2C framework within a preschool setting and identify factors that foster child compassion and social connectedness with peers at this age. This study hopes to inform future large-scale investigations of C2C and other similar educational approaches that capitalize on the transformative power of early childhood development to foster healthier and more compassionate children and societies.

Race, Gesture, Learning and Teaching Effectiveness

Black and white individuals’ nonverbal communication (such as gesturing) differs, with Black individuals gesturing more than white individuals. Ongoing research has found that gesture enhances language development and facilitates student learning and teacher effectiveness – particularly for Black children who show larger vocabulary gains after exposure to gesture-accompanied speech. These findings suggest that gesturing may serve as a cultural tool to narrow the achievement gap between Black and white children.

The goal of this study is to identify which gesture types are the most common and most effective for enhancing Black and white children’s learning outcomes. These findings will be used to develop a series of instructional videos for teachers on the effective use of gesturing in the classroom.

More About ABC Thrive 

ABC Thrive takes a holistic approach to helping babies and young children get the best possible start in life, focusing on their physical, mental and emotional well-being, as well as their environment and community. Leveraging the innovative research, education, clinical care and outreach capabilities of Duke University and Duke Health, the initiative promotes optimal development in children from prenatal to age five.

Priority areas include prenatal and early childhood health and wellness; community outreach; and applied technology to achieve scale, with data analytics in each of these domains guiding the research. ABC Thrive is affiliated with Bass Connections and housed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. It was established by a generous gift from Duke alumna and trustee Laurene Meir Sperling and her husband, Scott M. Sperling, through the Sperling Family Charitable Foundation. ABC Thrive is codirected by Staci Bilbo, Haley Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Katie Rosanbalm, Senior Research Scientist, Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.