University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Early Childhood Research Group

The Early Childhood Research Group is a faculty working group with mutual interest in early childhood education and care, both in home and in school settings. Faculty from a variety of research areas (political science, psychology, education and kinesiology) meet regularly with the goal of supporting each others’ research and developing collaborations. 

Want to get involved? Email to find out more!

Group Members

Dr. Sofiya Alhassan UMass headshot

Sofiya Alhassan's current research interest is in using physical activity in the prevention of pediatric obesity, in particular, the utilization of community family-based physical activity interventions to reduce early onset cardiovascular disease risk factors (obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus) in ethnic-minority children. Her research agenda also includes examining: 1) physical activity policy-base intervention in preschool-age children; 2) environmental and media influence on various health behaviors in ethnic-minority populations; and 3) after-school family-base intervention to improve physiological (obesity and diabetes risk) and psychosocial, and academic performance of minority pre-adolescents.

Luiz Amaral, Ph.D.

Luiz Amaral is an Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics who enjoys applying linguistics to address issues in second and bilingual language acquisition, language instruction, and the revitalization of native Brazilian languages. He is one of the co-directors of the Language Acquisition Research Center at UMass Amherst. Professor Amaral is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he finished his BA in Portuguese and French at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and his MA in Linguistics at PUC-Rio.  He received his PhD in Hispanic Linguistics at The Ohio State University with a dissertation entitled “Designing Intelligent Language Tutoring Systems: integrating natural 
language processing technology into foreign language teaching practice," which focused on Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Natural Language Processing.

Meghan Armstrong-Abrami, Ph.D.

Meghan Armstrong is Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at UMass Amherst. She has worked extensively on intonational meaning in Spanish, English and Catalan in both adult and child speech. Her recent work focuses on intonation’s role in conveying and perceiving mental states. She is also interested in how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder produce and perceive mental state intonation.

Professor Armstrong is active in community-engaged activities at UMass. She participated in the UMass Office for Civic Engagement and Service Learning’s Faculty Fellows program in 2014 and has projects with community partners in both Holyoke and Springfield. She is dedicated to working with community partners regarding the importance of non-standard dialects of Spanish and English in urban areas in Western New England such as Holyoke and Springfield.  She teaches a community-engaged course focused on the varieties of Spanish spoken in Massachusetts, as well as the varieties of English spoken by Hispanics in the region.

Ysaaca Axelrod

Ysaaca D. Axelrod has taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in Language and Literacy Development, Children, Families and School Relationships, Critical Issues in Early Childhood Education, Teaching Reading and Writing to English Language Learners, and Ethnography and Case-Study Research. Her research interests are in Early Childhood language and literacy development, in particular focusing on emergent bilingual and multilingual children and the intersections between language and identity development in young Latin@s.

Brenda Bushouse headshot

Brenda Bushouse's research interests include early childhood policy, nonprofit governance and policymaking processes. In her 2009 book, Universal Preschool: Policy Change, Stability, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, she analyzed the creation of state-funded preschool programs in six states and explored the impact of foundation funding in state policymaking processes. 

In 2008, she was hosted by the New Zealand Ministry of Education through an Ian Axford Fellowship in Public Policy to study early childhood policy in New Zealand, which led to the publication of Early Childhood Education Policy in Aotearroa/New Zealand: The Creation of the 20 Hours (Free) Program (2008). She is currently exploring the use of network methodologies to understand how nonprofit organizations elevate policy ideas.

Erik Cheries Photo

Dr. Cheries runs the Infant Cognition Laboratory at UMass, which conducts studies to examine what our concepts are like in the first year of life, prior to the influence of language, culture, and formal education.

His research currently concentrates on 3 main aspects of early knowledge: 1. infant's understanding of objects (e.g., Do infants have simple intuitions about how objects behave and interact? And how might these cognitive 'rules' support the ability to identify and track objects over time?) 2. infant's understanding of other people (e.g., When and how are infants able to infer people's intentions, goals and dispositions? To what extent do these capabilities rely upon different cognitive processes than tracking non-living entities?) 3. How might the cognitive processes described constitute the core of our concepts of numbercausality, and our moral intuitions. In order to better understand the nature of these processes, on-going projects identify the boundaries of infants' understanding in each of these domains in close comparison to the signature limitations that have been revealed in studies of adult cognition (particularly through work on visual cognition and attention) and studies of non-human primates.

Kirby Deater-Deckard

Kirby Deater-Deckard is a developmental psychologist who studies child and adolescent cognitive and social-emotional development, and the role of parenting and peer environments on developmental outcomes. He is the director of the Healthy Development Initiative (HDI) based at the UMass Center Springfield. HDI is a group of UMass scientists and students who discover and share new knowledge about human development across the lifespan in collaboration with community partners. HDI strives to understand and promote the psychological and physical health and well-being of children, adolescents, adults and seniors in our communities.