I have been volunteering at the Infant Learning Lab at UW-Madison for 5 years, since Cass was born in January of 2006, and both Cass and Mari have participated in several studies. The research at the lab investigates language development — how children learn words and sounds, and how they develop cognitive and perception skills. The lab relies on volunteer children (and their parents) ages 6 months to 3 years to help with research. The Infant Learning Lab is part of a greater network of learning at the UW Waisman Center. Study at the Waisman Center is devoted to understanding human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases.
It’s a pretty fascinating process. On a recent visit, Mari and I were involved in a study to understand how children know when one word ends and another begin. (Think of when you hear a foreign language, and you feel they are talking so fast you cannot even pick up on any of the words. This is what the study is about — how does a child figure out where the pauses are, where the words start and stop?) After getting a quick briefing about the study, Mari and I go into the soundproof room. Mari sits on my lap, I put on soundproof headphones (so as not to subconsciously direct Mari to the “right” answer, not that there is one), and we are left alone as the study begins. For about 5 minutes, Mari listens to noises and visuals on the screen and reacts by either looking at the visual or becoming disengaged. The noises are music and a made up language or foreign language that she has never heard.
At any time, we can stop the study. I have done these studies with Cass (my high energy, moving every second, chatterbox child) and Mari (my watch and learn, cautious child), and we have never not finished or had any problems with attention and fussiness. The studies are short enough that it really is just a quick activity for your child.
I cannot imagine an easier way to volunteer. I feel good knowing I’m helping educators and scientists understand how the mind and body works. Maybe we can help children with disabilities, speech problems, and other cognitive challenges.
All studies involve just 1 visit — no follow up or continued volunteering is required. Parking is free, and childcare is provided if another sibling is tagging along. The whole process takes around 20 minutes.
And at the end you get a free book or toy.
For children older than 3, there are several other studies that need volunteers at the Weisman Center. The Social Kids and SPACE Labs further look at language and social interaction among children and their environment. The SPACE Lab looks at childhood perception, action, and memory. The Social Kids Lab looks at social cognition.
Raising Madison was also recently contacted by LearningRx – a brain training company that works with kids who are around 5 for kindergarten readiness, and other children of any age (and adults!) on key cognitive skills that unlock their potential, and help them achieve more in school and in life.
LearningRx also offer workshops and classes, including brain-body connection classes, test prep and note taking for students and adults, Love and Logic classes, and a number of other classes dedicated to helping students and families reach their life goals.
Has your family taken part in any local child development research opportunities?