Tufts University, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development

Eliot-Pearson Celebrates its 50th!

Please join us to celebrate Eliot-Pearson’s 50th year as a department at Tufts! A whole day of activities is being planned, including workshops, children’s events, a talk by Howard Gardner, a gala dinner, and time for catching up with old friends. See the detailed schedule below. We hope you can join us for this very special event, Saturday October 25, 2014!

R.S.V.P: tinyurl.com/ep50th

The Schedule of Events:

12:00 – 1:00 PM Eliot-Pearson Award for Excellence in Children’s Media honoring Sesame Street followed by Children’s Activities on the Quad

1:00 – 3:00 PM Open time for getting together with friends and classmates

3:00 – 4:40 PM Faculty Workshops on Young Children and New Technologies, Promoting Character Development Among Youth, Testing and Teacher Development, Serving Children with Reading Challenges

5:00 – 5:45 PM Cocktails and Reception with a performance by the Jackson Jills, Tufts' oldest all-female a Capella group

7:00 – 7:00 PM Lecture by internationally acclaimed scholar Howard Gardner

7:15 – 9:00 PM Dinner with Greetings from President Monaco, Former Provost Sol Gittleman, and Professor Emeritus Sylvia Feinburg

We also invite you to share your Eliot-Pearson memories with us at http://sites.tufts.edu/epas

Fall 2014 NEWS

Eliot-Pearson Celebrates its 50th!

Playgrounds and Playpens

YouthBEAT — In Tune with Youth and Communities

A Play Garden for a Foster Village in China

Perceptions of Infertility in the Mapuche Tribe of Southern Chile

Alumni Stories

Jessica Goldberg


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Playgrounds and Playpens: Children as Computer Programmers

We have all been at playgrounds. We know them well. Playgrounds engage young children in playful learning. Their open-ended nature facilitates fantasy play and social interactions, discovery and exploration, problem solving and conflict resolution. At playgrounds, young children make their own choices.

Now, think of playpens. In playpens, there are walls made out of rubber, mesh, wood or plastic, walls  to corral children into a risk-free, confined space. In playpens, children play with the toys that adults choose to put inside the playpen. There is little room for imagination, exploration, and taking risks. There is, in other words, little room for getting the kinds of benefits given on playgrounds. Given the choice between playgrounds and playpens, most parents and educators choose playgrounds for their children.

I use the metaphor of “playgrounds vs. playpens” to guide our understanding of the diversity of roles that new technologies can play in our lives. The “playground vs. playpen” metaphor provides a way to understand not the technologies themselves (those are constantly changing as new products come to market), but the kind of developmentally appropriate experiences that technologies must promote, namely problem solving, imagining, taking on cognitive challenges, engaging in social interactions, developing motor skills, exploring emotions, and and making good choices in general.

Playground-style technologies provide tools for children to make their own projects such as games and illustrations, movies and music, animations and robotic creatures. My work focuses on a specific kind of production that children can do with technology, namely, computer programming, or coding. Learning how to program a computer is a window into “learning about learning”. When coding, children think in terms of next, before, and until -- all components of sequencing, an important skill in early childhood as it is foundational for math and literacy. When children learn a programming language, they are also learning how to solve problems in systematic ways, and how to come up with new and powerful ideas for expressing themselves.

Traditionally, most of the work on computer programming has focused on older children. However, innovative computer interfaces allow for the design of technologies that support the developmental needs and capabilities of young children. My Developmental Technologies research group (DevTech) has been a pioneer in this area. We have developed and launched two different kinds of digital playgrounds that allow young children to engage in programming in developmentally appropriate ways. The digital playgrounds or programs are called the ScratchJr app and the KIBO robotic kit. Both have received funding from the National Science Foundation and are now are available to everyone who wants them, as a free app and for purchase.

ScartchJr, launched this summer, is the result of a collaboration between my DevTech research group,  the MIT Media Lab, an the PICO company. It is a programming language using pictures that enables young children, ages 5 to 7, to create interactive stories and games by snapping together graphical programming blocks. Children can make their own projects by creating characters in a “paint editor”, adding their own voices and sounds, and inserting photos of themselves. Then, they can use 30 different programming blocks to give instructions to those characters by assembling scripts or sequences for the characters to act out. ScartchJr can be downloaded for free from the app store. We are working on versions of ScratchJr that will run on other platforms. We are also conducting active research on how children learn computer science with ScratchJr and how teachers are using it to integrate coding with other areas in the early childhood curriculum, such as math and literacy.

Building on the tradition of learning manipulatives, first developed in the 1800’s by Froebel and Montessori, my DevTech group has developed another technology, the KIBO robotic kit. KIBO was borne in my lab many years ago out of my frustration with current robotic kits that seemed to mostly engage older boys interested in engineering. I wanted a different kind of robotic kit, one that would provide every young child the same excitement as going to the playground, one that could focus on movement and that would engage young dancers, young storytellers, and young artists, as well as young scientists and engineers. 

With funding from the National Science Foundation, KIBOs life started as the KIWI prototype. KIBO is designed for young children aged 4-7 years old, and it appeals to both technologically minded kids and those that connect more to the arts and to physical activity. Using KIBO, children build their own robot, program it to do what they want using wooden programming blocks, and decorate it with recyclable materials. KIBO gives children the chance to make their ideas physical and tangible, without requiring screen time from PCs, tablets or smartphones. 

We designed KIBO for open-ended play. Children make almost anything – a character from a story, a carousel, a dancer, a race helicopter – anything that they are interested in making. Then they create a sequence of instructions (a program) using the wooden KIBO blocks. They scan the blocks with the KIBO body to tell the robot what to do. They press the button, and the robot comes alive. With KIBO, young children can become programmers, engineers, designers, artists, dancers, choreographers and writers.

For the last several years we developed an early childhood robotics program that has been successfully piloted with over 400 children and 50 teachers. The program consists of a robotics curriculum and assessment instruments that can be easily integrated with other curricular themes and that is aligned with Common Core standards.

We are surrounded by technologies. Yet, in the early grades, children learn very little about what’s possible with new technologies. Just as it is important to begin science instruction in the early years by building on children’s curiosity about the natural world, it is equally important to begin the development of technological literacy and engage children in experiences that allow them to become creators with and not merely consumers of new technologies. And for that to happen, the new technologies must offer children playgrounds, not playpens.


...the metaphor of “playgrounds vs. playpens” to guide our understanding of the diversity of roles that new technologies can play...


Keep In Touch

Our periodic email messages include information on Department news and events as well as career and fellowhsip opportunities.

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Send Us Your News!
Let friends, faculty, and classmates know what you are up to these days. Or do you have a recent publication you'd like to share with the Eliot-Pearson community?


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co/ George Scarlett
Eliot-Pearson Dept. of CSHD
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Medford, MA 02155

Or email George Scarlett

Please include your name, email, class year, and degree(s).


When coding, children think in terms of next, before, and until -- all components of sequencing, an important skill in early childhood as it is foundational for math and literacy.



The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development

Please take this opportunity to consider a donation to one or more of the following funds:

  • Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development General Fund
  • Eliot-Pearson Children's School Scholarship Fund for Children
  • Evelyn Pitcher Curriculum Lab Resource Fund
  • Feinburg Fund for the Arts in Child Development

Please Include Your Name, Degree, and Graduation Year.
Thank you!



The Trustees of Tufts College


Indicate your chosen fund(s) in the MEMO section on your check. Unspecified gifts will go to the Eliot-Pearson Dept. of CSHD General Fund



Tufts University

co/ George Scarlett

Eliot-Pearson Dept. of CSHD
105 College Avenue
Medford, MA 02155


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YouthBEAT — In Tune with Youth and Community


Some of us have always known what the arts can provide for children – all children. But given the current emphasis on science, math, and literacy, not everyone sees it the same way – which is why I have been involved over the past several years in leading a project called YouthBEAT. This is a research project that carefully evaluates the experience and effects brought about by participation by youth from underserved communities throughout the U.S. in exemplary music programs that are affiliated with highly respected institutions, such as Berklee College of Music.

Specifically, the YouthBEAT project team of graduate and undergraduate students studies how student engagement in music leads to enhancement of resilience, leadership, positive cultural identity, purpose, and achievement among youth. Using a community-based and participatory evaluation approach, we have gathered data in urban centers from over 400 youth ages 9-19, and over 300 of their teachers, families and community members. These youth participate in after-school music programs that share a focus on community music-making and playing contemporary music, including jazz, R&B, rock, Latin, and hip hop. The students are offered, without cost to the student or family, private or small group lessons, theory, and musicianship classes, and opportunities to play and perform in youth ensembles.

We interview the youth, staff and families, and community members and boards, and observe ensemble rehearsals, classes and performances. We also conduct follow-up interviews and observations at the sites. We have developed a strong relationship with our youth participants and the communities where we work, and have been meeting with some of these students for six years. Many of our participants contact us throughout the year to share their news and to invite us to upcoming music events in their communities.

In after-school program sites where over 75% of the youths participate in reduced and free lunch programs, and where a majority of students are living in low-income single parent households, and live in neighborhoods where high school graduation rates are well below the nation's average, the statistics for the YouthBEAT research group reveal extraordinarily high rates of high school graduation and college attendance. Much of this educational success seems to stem from the provision of high quality music programming to youth who love music, and to the teacher-musicians who understand the importance of building on the strengths of youth and providing a safe space and challenging experiences in youth ensemble music- making.

One way to think about why music can make such a difference is that it gives students experience and roles that form a foundation for becoming a responsible citizen. There are many demands placed on a group of students that are learning to create and play music together. These collective music-making experiences require preparation, persistence, practice, risk-taking, authentic collaboration, careful listening, and being "in tune" with others.

These after-school music programs also give students a place where they and their cultural communities are cared about and respected, and where they can show care and respect in return. As one student commented: "This program means so much to me. It is like a family here. It's hard sometimes to learn the music, to bring it all together, but we work hard, and we know the teachers are there to help us. And I love the music we play!"

Many of the students come to these programs with some music background, such as experience in their church or community instrumental and vocal groups, but they have little or no experience in reading music. As one student commented, "When I came here, I didn't know very much about music, but I knew I loved to sing. I've learned so much-- how to read music and I know so much more about music theory, too!"

Another student explained, "I've learned to be disciplined, to set time for myself to learn. I have to be prepared. I never want to disappoint the others in my ensemble. This year I'm a section leader, and I want to be a really strong leader for my group. This program has changed my life- it's given me a sense of purpose.
I don't know if I will do music for my career. Right now, I want to go to law school, but music will always be a part of my life."

Another ten-year old student said, "I've found my people here at the music academy. These are my friends.... I could stay here all day, every day. I really love making music with my friends here."

Through this research I had planned to document stories of success, but I never expected there would be so many stories that these youth would generously share with us. There are youth in our study who have grown up in neighborhoods in the poorest zip code areas in the U.S.. There are youth who have lost family members and have raised themselves and their siblings. These youth see these after-school music programs as a haven that has helped to enhance their strengths in doing something they love to do-- making music. There are also youth whose families, despite serious economic challenges, have supported their children and who share the pride these youth feel about their work and their ability to express themselves through music.

After a year or two in these programs, students who struggled in school are getting better grades. The majority of students are getting accepted into college and will be the first ones in their families to receive a college education. Engagement in these music-making experiences has transformed the images these youth have of themselves and their cultural communities and have created a desire within them to provide strong role models for others and to give back to their communities.

I know that there are many who think that the arts are for the "special few" who show extraordinary talents. Music and other arts are the first classes to be eliminated from schools during times of financial crisis. But by eliminating or diminishing opportunities for participation in music and other arts, we are denying our children the opportunity to develop a human ability that is unique and universal – the ability to create, to think about possibilities, to imagine, and to express ourselves in ways that are not always so easily captured through the written or spoken word. Music and other arts are essential parts of education that can provide our youth with inspiration and a sense of possibility to imagine a better world.




YouthBEAT ... studies how student engagement in music leads to enhancement of resilience, leadership, positive cultural identity, purpose, and achievement among youth.







These after-school music programs also give students a place where they and their cultural communities are cared about and respected...








After a year or two in these programs, students who struggled in school are getting better grades.


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A Play Garden for a Foster Village in China

Iris Chin Ponte [sitting far right] (Education Chair for Yunnan Kids International) and Fang Lee (President of Yunnan Kids International) meet with the Director of the Kunming Orphanage

Our van moved forward over the dirt road. We were lucky that it hadn’t rained in weeks. Something as simple as rain could have stopped our group from entering the Kunming Foster Village. After months of negotiation, planning, and preparation, it was happening. We had received unprecedented approval to unveil our Natural Play Garden plans to the Foster Village officials and all of the foster families. We all held our breath as we entered the Community Center. Within seconds of showing our design, we were met with joyful clapping, and happy tears. This play garden will change the lives of over 300 rural foster children that wait to be adopted.

After adopting my oldest son in 2009 from the Kunming Social Welfare Institute in China, I was determined to find a way to help the children that continue to wait for their adoptive families. For the first 18 months of my son’s life he was offered very limited experiences to climb, walk, and jump. His orphanage explained to me, “In rural China there are no safe spaces for children to move and play. The children spend most of their young lives tied to their foster mother’s back in the fields.” It was a lot of work to bring my little boy’s gross motor skills up to speed – and that experience led to the dream of designing a space where children and their foster families could find freedom to move.

But the play garden is much, much more. Chinese people have a long and storied tradition of connecting to nature and to the natural world. This connecting is demonstrated in landscape paintings, Chinese music, and dance. But in recent years, smog, urban construction, and limited space has covered over the natural world in China and made it impossible for millions of children and families to connect to natural spaces that are deep and satisfying. Natural Play Gardens offer, then, a kind of play therapy and a return to a healthy, inspiring tradition. Therefore, these new play spaces will offer a new venue to combat a very serious issue.

Over the past year the playground team has been working closely with the leadership of the Kunming Social Welfare Institute to design a space that can equally serve children between the ages of zero and twelve and their foster families. Besides having to serve such a wide range of ages, an additional challenge is that many of the children that reside in the foster village have a range of special needs. After numerous meetings and a visit to the Eliot-Pearson Natural Playground, the team has developed a space that we now call a “play garden.” – to capture the truly natural way that the playground is laid out and the way it will engage children to make use of natural materials. This space includes a traditional climber alongside many naturalistic play areas (e.g., garden beds, stump walks, large sandboxes, meandering pathways). It is the playground team’s hope that by providing this space, children and foster families alike, will have more outdoor play opportunities. This December, some members of the playground team will be traveling to Kunming, China to begin to build the play garden.  

The Kunming play garden will symbolize the connection between children that have already been adopted from Kunming and the children that wait. It will also symbolize a connection to a storied Chinese past as well as a connection between quite different cultures and people whose differences do not negate the fact that they share so much in common. Most of all, it will be a place to run, explore, play, and laugh. 

If you are interested in learning more about the project or making a donation please visit: https://yunnankids.squarespace.com

In rural China there are no safe spaces for children to move and play. The children spend most of their young lives tied to their foster mother’s back in the fields.”


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Perceptions of Infertility in the Mapuche Tribe of Southern Chile

Zimmerman collecting herbal remedies with Machí Rosa, a Mapuche doctor

“We see the woman as something very special, like the earth. Like the earth herself. And we care for her. That’s why I am here.” A man from the Mapuche tribe in southern Chile made this statement about the role of women in his society while looking admiringly at his mother. From the Mapuche perspective, his mother had completed her responsibilities perfectly: she gave birth to a healthy Mapuche son, sustained him with nutrients and love, and taught him to live the life of a good Mapuche man. 40 years later the mother sat wearing her traditional cloth mantel and silver jewelry (küpam and trapelacucha) in the waiting room of Hospital Makewe, unable to communicate due to her old age, yet safe under the nurturing care of her son.

This woman was lucky; she had the required anatomy, the necessary hormones, no detrimental environmental exposures, and a sufficient diet and exercise routine to allow her to have children. But what happens to a Mapuche woman who is not so lucky? What happens to infertile women in a society so deeply focused on having and raising children? This was the guiding question of my study on the treatment of infertility and on community perceptions of infertile indigenous women in Temuco, Chile.

Over the course of three weeks, I interviewed and surveyed Mapuche community members to understand their perceptions of infertility, gender roles, and the societal importance of children. The results showed a society following highly traditional gender roles – the male being the head of the household and the female being the “dueña de casa” or housekeeper. However, “housekeeper” does not capture the great value placed on female reproduction in Mapuche culture – for children are of utmost importance. Their importance is linked to the need for more field hands in their agrarian society and the extreme pressure to have children who will grow to pass on the fading Mapuche heritage. Children are such an inherent part of Mapuche life that some participants had trouble imagining a marriage or life without children. As one participant put it, “I find a marriage without children to be something bad. One needs to have children to have meaning in their life.”

For the Mapuche, having children also means having someone to care for you in old age. Nursing homes are not common in Mapuche communities, and so childless Mapuche women are often concerned about who will care for them when they are elderly.

Infertile Mapuche women may suffer unusual negative consequences in their romantic relationships due to their inability to have children. Participants stated that an infertile woman will never have a stable relationship, for “men always want descendants.” One infertile participant said that although people in the community treat her normally, she suspects that they speak badly of her behind her back.

Community perceptions of the “modern world” may be a barrier to infertile women receiving the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. The Mapuche worldview is centered on the idea of  “Nag Mapu,” an equilibrium formed by interactions between the humans, land, nature, powers, and energies of the world. If this equilibrium is disturbed, possibly by the intrusion of modern culture and by neglect of Mapuche customs, repercussions will be seen in many areas of society including health, religion, government, and interpersonal relationships.

Mapuche medical professionals (Machí, Püñelñelchefe, and Lawentüchefe) believe that the intrusion of modern culture has caused an increase in infertility rates. This intrusion is seen in the use of chemical fertilizers instead of the age-old Mapuche agricultural processes, excessive use of oral contraceptives instead of ancestral family planning techniques and herbal remedies, and the gradual loss of the Mapuche customs and language, Mapundungun.

Modern culture, seen as an enemy by many of the Mapuche people, could offer Mapuche women refuge through educational opportunities and jobs. Creating support networks for infertile women in the Mapuche community and fostering knowledge of lifestyle options outside of the family could decrease infertile women’s sense of inferiority. However, as in any sustainable intervention, the program’s goals must align with the community’s needs and desires.

A history of unjust treatment at the hands of both foreigners and the Chilean government has made the Mapuche people distrustful of outsiders – so suggesting an intervention to help infertile women may be met with skepticism. For any program to be developed and implemented, those conducting it must have a deep understanding of the Mapuche worldview and how it influences their perceptions of women and children. As one wise Mapuche friend of mine said, “If you want to learn anything about us, you have to stop observing through your western glasses and start living our life.”

"I find a mariage without children to be something bad. One needs to have children to have meaning in life."





What happens to infertile women in a society so deeply focused on having and raising children?


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Alumni Stories

Jessica Goldberg Receives Service Excellence Award

Jessica Goldberg has recently received the 2014 Research and Evaluation Partner Service Excellence Award from Prevent Child Abuse America/Healthy Families America for her work as an evaluator of home visiting programs in Massachusetts. Jess received her MA and PhD from Eliot-Pearson, and worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Children's School. As a member of the Tufts Interdisciplinary Research and Evaluation (TIER) center, Jess has worked on several evaluations in the past 15 years, but it was primarily her role as an evaluator of the Healthy Families Massachusetts (HFM) program — a universal statewide home visiting program for teen moms — that led the Children’s Trust of Massachusetts (the administrators of HFM) to nominate her for this award. Because of her unusual combination of technical evaluation skills, political savvy, and remarkable work ethic, Jess has earned a national reputation in home visiting evaluation, as this highly competitive award suggests. 

Jess, her co-principal investigators (Eliot-Pearson professors Easterbrooks, Jacobs, and Mistry), and her team of students and co-workers, have worked hard to answer important questions about how effective HFM has been in meeting its mission of promoting positive parenting and helping these young mothers (who range in age from 12-21) navigate the transition to adulthood and parenthood. Data collection for this evaluation will continue into next year, so results are still preliminary, but the TIER team has found that HFM has been effective in many ways, such as reducing the teen mothers’ risky behaviors, increasing condom use, and relieving their parenting stress.

It is sometimes the case that evaluators are viewed negatively, and with trepidation by the staff of the programs being studied. Jess Goldberg uses an evaluation framework (created by co-PI Fran Jacobs) that is responsive and adaptive to programs’ needs, and she is committed to doing evaluation research that is genuinely applied and useful to the programs. In light of this, the fact that this award was given in recognition of her service as an evaluation partner is what makes Jess particular proud of this honor.

Jessica Goldberg

...Jess has earned a national reputation in home visiting evaluation...


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