President's Report 2006 | Research

Research explores how children develop

Dr. Carole Peterson talking to a four-year old boy, Jagger Mercer/Adams about an incident that happened to him. (Photo submitted)

The research of Dr. Carole Peterson, Department of Psychology, focuses on the role that parents play which is linked to success in school storytelling or narration.

“Research has shown that children who learn how to structure good stories make a more successful transition to school because what they are reading in school are story structures which have a beginning, middle and end.”

In her research, Dr. Peterson has demonstrated that the way parents talk to children is an extremely important predictor of a child’s development.

She said, “By the time children are three or four years of age you have some who have complex story telling skills and others who have no idea of how to put together multiple sentences or how to structure them logically and/or temporally.”

She pointed to a lot of research that has been carried out in the United States which recorded everyday conversations between parents and children and demonstrates how very different the verbal environments can be. Some children enter school having an incredible vocabulary because of the language they have been exposed to at home while others have a lot more variation in their vocabulary based upon how much complex language they have heard.

“Not only is how parents talk to children important but a parent can also change the way they talk to children ¬ they can learn the optimal ways of talking to children.”

Her research focuses on storytelling skills because they are an important foundation for literacy. Stories dealing with personal events and narratives are easier for children to grasp. Her focus is also on talking verses reading because there are many more opportunities to talk to children in stimulating ways throughout the day and developing oral skills is something every family can do.

“When children first start to develop language it is very here and now, and they talk about things that are visible and in their environment. What parents need to do is talk about there and then, to encourage children to use language to describe what objects they are talking about and what the relationship between them is,” she added.

“Second, parents need to encourage children with why, what, when, where questions that encourage them to develop elaboration and a beginning, middle and end. This will ultimately help them develop an internal structure or cognitive schema.”