Undergraduate research creates an emotionally supportive environment for preschoolers

When Jane Richardson, recent Bachelor of Applied Child Studies graduate, started her second Directed Field Studies (DFS) this past summer, she received more than a passing grade and credit to obtain her degree.

Dawne Clark, director of the Centre for Child Well Being, Jane Richardson and Elaine Danelesko, director of the Integrative Health Institute.
Dawne Clark, director of the Centre for Child Well Being, Jane Richardson and Elaine Danelesko, director of the Integrative Health Institute.

Richardson also landed the role as a research assistant through one of six research grants for undergraduates funded by the Branch Out Neurological Foundation - a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the purpose of funding research, education and other works related to the treatment, care, cure and prevention of neurological disorders with a focus on complementary and alternative medicine and therapy for these neurological disorders.

Her research focused on exploring simple, complementary and alternative strategies for use by parents and caregivers of preschool children to support emotional development in the area of self-regulation - a proposal that came from Dawne Clark, director of the Centre for Child Well Being, and Elaine Danelesko, director of the Integrative Health Institute who were also Richardson's research supervisors throughout the project.

"The project began with researching self regulation in preschool children and also strategies in order to implement activities to be brought inside the classroom," explains Richardson. "From that research, we created a parent and staff resource guide."

Crystal Phillips, president, Branch Out Neurological Foundation, immediately sensed Richardson's passion for the research she proposed and her love of children.

"Jane's application showed that she was working on a well-designed research study with a potentially very positive impact on children's cognitive development," Phillips explains.

The guide Richardson created explains how to implement four activities that would help children self regulate extreme emotions. Based on her research, Richardson chose to implement four specific activities inside the classroom - yoga and deep breathing, music, movement and massage.

"We found that these activities had a very positive impact on the children," says Richardson.

"Through these strategies, we were seeing how children regulated their emotions when they felt extreme excitement or anger and frustration and how they used the techniques to amend that. We had the children drumming their frustration and we noticed that the beat of the drum would slow down as they become more calm and they would drum less forcefully."

Responding to self regulation

With support from Executive Director, Maria Valente, Richardson completed her in-class experience at Mount Royal's Child Care Centre, where she made vast progress in a short amount of time.

Jane Richardson with her poster presentation on her research findings.
Jane Richardson with her poster presentation on her research findings.

"It was quite remarkable how quickly the children responded. We set boundaries at first with things like the yoga mat because of course being three to five year olds they first saw it as a toy," explains Richardson. "So for instance, when we practiced yoga there were three simple guidelines: your mat stays flat, our hands stay to ourselves and we listen to the teacher. This resonated really well with the kids."

Not only did the children preform the activities by being good listeners and keen learners, there were some incredible moments that came about from participating in the activities.

"At one point we asked the children after drumming how they felt and most of them said 'happy' but then one little girl blew us away when she said 'I feel like I am friends with the whole world,'" remarks Richardson.

"We also let the children feel the vibration of the drum when we hit the top of it and I could see one little boy start to tear up. Afterwards I asked him what was wrong and he said 'that's just what my body felt like doing.'"

Richardson has always been very interested in practicing yoga and massage, but something drew her to Child Studies, so by implementing these activities with children she feels she's experiencing the best of both worlds.

"It's really touching to me that these children are expressing themselves and responding to these techniques in such a positive way in relation to the emotions they are feeling," she says. I wish I could have been in the classroom for longer to give the children an even better idea of each of the strategies for self regulation."

Cognitive about care giving

Although Richardson had to leave the classroom at Mount Royal's Child Care Centre after a short amount of time, she has now landed a permanent position as a preschool teacher at a different centre teaching three and four year olds.

"Jane was our only Mount Royal student award winner and were thoroughly impressed," explains Phillips. "She was ambitious and determined, but most importantly, very caring. We could sense that her project was more than just research; Jane genuinely wanted to help others."

"This research was a great starting point because now I am able to implement and introduce these strategies into my own classroom," says Richardson about her excitement to take her research forward. "We are doing yoga three times a week in our classroom right now and also have a dance break each day. It's so exciting that I can use my own research in my very own classroom."

- Angela S., Oct. 18, 2012