NICHD Early Learning Research Information

NICHD early learning research explores a range of topics, including early intervention, the effects of a child’s environment, early social interactions, and long-term effects of early learning.

In addition, institute research addresses the brain and cognitive development, nutrition and learning, learning disabilities, ways to promote learning, and other topics.

Some NICHD projects work to figure out which experiences children need from birth to age 8 to prepare them for success in school. Other studies include long-term follow-up studies that measure the long-term impact of early intervention programs.

Some NICHD research goals related to early learning include (but are not limited to):

  • Learning about behavioral and cognitive development at the molecular, cellular, and brain system levels
  • Understanding how these mechanisms interact with environmental factors
  • Pinpointing important periods for perception, learning, memory, language, and reasoning
  • Examining the effects of media and technology on brain development (for example, as seen through the developing central nervous system, learning, problem solving, social interaction, and communication)
  • Identifying how emerging technologies can be used to prevent, lessen, or treat a range of learning and developmental conditions
  • Learning how early interactions with family members, adult caretakers, teachers, and peers in early care and education settings support learning and school readiness in children from diverse backgrounds and environments
  • Developing interventions for at-risk infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children that promote early learning and school readiness skills and abilities
  • Perfecting methods for measuring early learning and school readiness skills in diverse populations of children and measures of home, child care, and preschool environments, and practices related to child learning and development
  • Assessing the effectiveness of training strategies for people involved in the care and education of young children

Through its intramural and extramural organizational units, NICHD supports and conducts a broad range of research projects on early learning and childhood education. Short descriptions of this research are included below.

Institute Activities and Advances

Several NICHD organizational units support and conduct research on early learning, childhood education, and their long-term effects. Although the following areas are central to early learning and education research at NICHD, many NICHD organizational units conduct research that is relevant to early learning and education, including research on subjects like brain development or the effects of early-life exposures on cognitive processes.

The Childhood Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB), within the Division of Extramural Research (DER), develops scientific initiatives and supports research and research training relevant to the psychological, psychobiological, language, behavioral, and educational development and health of children.

In particular, the CDBB Early Learning and School Readiness Program supports basic and translational developmental research that attempts to specify the experiences children need from birth to age 8 to prepare them for a successful transition to school entry and later achievement. The program also supports long-term follow-up studies that quantify the long-term impact of early intervention programs. Studies have examined:

CDBB has other programs that support early learning research. Visit the CDBB Programs and Program Areas page for more information.

The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch within DER sponsors research and research training aimed at understanding differences in early learning in children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as interventions to promote early learning.

Other DER components study various aspects of early learning within certain contexts. For example, research in the Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Branch examines cognitive effects of childhood HIV infection/treatment and early exposure to HIV or HIV drugs.

In addition, the Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch supports research on the role of nutrition in learning and development. The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch explores aspects of early learning for infants born preterm or at low birth weight and to those exposed to different environments and factors in the womb. The Population Dynamics Branch examines how features such as multi-generational home or immigration status influence early learning outcomes.

In the Division of Intramural Research, the Child and Family Research Section investigates dispositional, experiential, and environmental factors that contribute to physical, mental, emotional, and social development in infants, children, and adolescents.

Other Activities and Advances

  • Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE)
    The ACE program is a trans-NIH initiative that supports large-scale multidisciplinary studies on autism spectrum disorders, with the goal of determining the disorders’ causes and the best treatments for them.
  • Cincinnati MR Imaging of Neurodevelopment (C-MIND) external link
    A collaboration between NICHD and the C-MIND study allows researchers to investigate brain development in children from infancy through adolescence. C-MIND allows exploration of developmental changes in brain anatomy, structural and functional connectivity, neurovascular coupling/reactivity and the interaction of brain development and cognitive changes during childhood. Researchers affiliated with the project gave an overview of C-MIND approaches and findings in the summer of 2015.
  • Databrary external link
    The CDDB supports this open data library, housing video and audio materials and free tools for coding and analysis, for use by the developmental research community.
  • DS Connect: The Down Syndrome Registry
    This registry links those seeking volunteers for their research studies with those who most stand to benefit from the research.
  • Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Consortium
    The consortium supports researchers whose goals are to advance understanding of a variety of conditions and topics related to intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Learning Disabilities Research Center Consortium
    The consortium was established in 1989 as a primary means for developing knowledge on the causes, origins, and developmental course of learning disabilities.
  • Learning Disabilities Innovation Hubs
    The hubs, initiated in 2012, aim to address the causes, symptoms, and treatments of learning disabilities that impact reading, writing, and mathematics.
  • NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD)
    The SECCYD, launched in 1991, was a comprehensive longitudinal study initiated to answer questions about the relationships between child care experiences, child care characteristics, and children’s developmental outcomes. Although funding ended in 2009, researchers continue to analyze data from the study.

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