BUFFALO, N.Y. — If the goal is to raise healthy, active
children, comfortable and capable in the 21st century global
village, the University at Buffalo’s Early Childhood Research
Center (ECRC) believes in starting early.
After building a distinguished track record enriching young
children’s lives by taking cues from some of the most
cutting-edge early childhood education around the world, the ECRC
raises the bar even further this semester with a blend of physical
and mental stimulation suitable for candidates who can navigate the
ECRC is offering a new program to teach non-native language
— Mandarin or Spanish — to children between the ages of
2 and 5. It also has expanded its weekly movement activities for
toddlers and preschoolers to include yoga, dance and creative
Kelly Roy, PhD, clinical assistant professor in the Graduate
School of Education and director of UB’s ECRC, sees the
mind-body continuum clearly. What makes it truly exciting for her
is the chance to incorporate current knowledge of brain development
into a curriculum that molds these life values into children under
the age of 5.
“We have these amazing teachers with diverse perspectives
and knowledge who can bring their cultures, languages and passion
for their areas of expertise to our children,” says Roy.
“What an opportunity for our children. It’s also
great for adults preparing to be teachers who practice with us, as
well as the researchers who are studying methods.”
Roy has worked with young children from all over the world for
more than 30 years.
“I’ve studied the research. I understand how
progressive, high-quality, early childhood experiences can
positively impact someone throughout their life,” she says.
“It’s such a great opportunity that we have here at UB
to bring passionate teachers committed to early childhood education
together with world-class researchers studying how best to teach.
We all collaborate here at the ECRC to use all that we know about
young children and how to teach them to provide unique
opportunities and curricula for them to learn through play, as well
as prepare our next generation of teachers.
“I’m amazed at our teachers and little friends every
Roy has been director of the program, which combines the study
of child development, teaching and its impact on families with
practical experiences for professionals in training and
researchers, since 2009. The ECRC has had a multicultural focus
since its inception in 1932, engaging teachers and students from
all over the world. That same multicultural principle has guided
the new program to teach non-native language.
“Watching them develop expressive language in two
languages as virtually native speakers is just incredible to
me,” she says.
“This program gives young children opportunities to learn
additional languages when they’re toddlers and preschoolers,
when it’s easiest for them. It also has the biggest impact on
their brain development.
“It’s incredible to watch a toddler from Western New
York begin to do activities directed in Mandarin when it’s
completely new to them,” she says. “I knew the
importance of the early childhood stage of development after having
worked in this field for more than 30 years. But this program has
given me a whole new respect for how important effective teaching
is at this stage, as well as how smart the little ones
The expanded variety of weekly movement activities for toddlers
and preschoolers ties in as well with Roy’s studies of the
outdoor environment for young children that support the evidence
that children need to keep moving, learn positive ways to relax and
de-stress, and learn healthy ways to express themselves.
Roy’s research includes developing a scale that rates how
much children learn outside and how children with developmental
challenges can become self-determining.
“Our dance and yoga teacher conducts many of the classes
outdoors,” says Roy. “We get outside and move around,
even in the snow. The children love it and benefit from it in a
variety of ways.”
As with all ECRC programs, the classroom curriculum and
practices are rooted firmly in mainstream, professionally respected
The center’s dance teacher did a pilot study of imagery
and dance with 4 year olds last semester, Roy says.
“She worked with them to see themselves, in their
mind’s eye, performing tasks from stories, such as flying
over their home, or running across a finish line, or relaxing under
a tree,” she says.
“Her results were surprising in that she found that the
children did use imagery to help with skill development, even as
preschoolers,” Roy notes. “There has not been published
work in this area previously with children this young. Elite
athletes and dancers use imagery to build skills, but it has not
ever been studied with young children.”
Teaching sometimes exotic and unfamiliar international languages
to these preschoolers is another example of how the ECRC takes an
educational task others might shy away from and makes it fun.
“One of the languages we’re teaching is
Mandarin,” says Roy. “Preparing children to speak a
language that is becoming one of the most important languages
globally in business and commerce is essential.”
One of the ECRC teachers is a native Mandarin speaker. She plans
lessons every day that include cultural activities, songs, games,
writing and stories, in addition to other expressive language
“Given that we just celebrated the Asian New Year,”
Roy says, “it’s been impressive how the children have
participated and enjoyed the activities.”
The ECRC also teaches children basic Spanish through play
“Again, offering an introduction to a language so widely
used worldwide is a great benefit to our children and
community,” says Roy. “In addition to the immediate
benefit to their abilities to learn many topics better, fluency in
multiple languages can open doors for opportunity in their
The ECRC roll call also includes numerous children learning two
languages simultaneously between home and school.
“It’s interesting to see how they’re supported
in our setting,” Roy says. “They’re toddlers who
come from a home where one language is spoken, and we speak English
at the ECRC. They begin with us, sometimes with no English of any
“Within an incredibly short time — sometimes a
couple of weeks — they begin understanding some English
through our songs and routines. Within two or three months, we
generally see them begin to use common phrases, as they do at that
stage of development in their native language. They then develop
expressive language in two languages as virtually native
All of this learning takes place through teachers and children
from different countries and perspectives playing
“To watch this develop every day is just
astounding,” says Roy. “It truly gives you a sense of
hope and an idea of the potential of the human mind and
The Early Childhood Research Center offers educational services
for children from 2 to 5 years of age, including language and
movement, in addition to the other areas necessary to have a great
start in school.
Mandarin and Spanish, in addition to dance, yoga, creative
movement and swimming, are offered during the center’s
afternoon program, held from 1-4 p.m. Mondays through
Children can attend at least two days per week, while some
attend four or five days throughout the academic year. There is
also a summer program for school-age children, in addition to the
To contact the center, call 716-645-2379.