Two doctoral students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are studying some of the biggest battlegrounds for parents and caregivers of young children: sleeping and convincing children to eat their vegetables.
Anna Johnson and Saima Hasnin are the 2021-22 recipients of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute Graduate Scholarships at the University of Nebraska.
Hasnin is a doctoral student in the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies and uses her graduate scholarship funding to study children’s vegetable consumption in rural child care programs. . Johnson, who is taking the clinical psychology training program at the university, is researching sleep in young children and whether sleep disorders affect social and academic outcomes later in elementary school.
“I thank the Buffett Institute for encouraging us as young scholars,” Hasnin said. “It’s a great achievement and it prepares me to become an independent researcher.”
The application period for the 2022-23 Graduate Scholarship Program is now open and submissions are due March 31. the development, education and well-being of young children. Learn more about the program and eligibility criteria.
Former researchers have used the funding to examine a wide range of topics, including health disparities, early math skills for preschoolers, mindfulness programs for early educators, and potentially drug interventions. to treat developmental conditions such as autism.
“We seek ideas for innovative projects, including in areas not traditionally represented in early childhood research,” said Greg Welch, associate director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute.
The Institute encourages various applicants to apply, including international students. Hasnin, who is from Bangladesh, said she is grateful that the Buffett Institute rewards diversity and equity — as an international student, not all sources of research funding are available to her.
“I encourage our graduate students to apply for the Postgraduate Scholarship Program as it will help them develop research skills such as grant making, study design, data analysis and dissemination. of research through peer-reviewed publications as well as to community stakeholders,” said Dipti Dev. , Hasnin faculty mentor and associate professor of child, youth, and family studies.
Johnson analyzes data from an existing longitudinal study from the university’s Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory to see how the sleep patterns of a group of 5-year-olds affected later outcomes in the third grade, such as cognition, behavioral and mental health issues, and social interactions. .
“Children’s sleep is just such an important thing that has a big impact on their growth and development,” she said. “It’s just when a child’s brain goes through a lot of changes, and sleep really helps facilitate those changes and facilitate growth.”
Parents and pediatricians sometimes see sleep problems as a normal part of growing up, Johnson said, but a growing body of research points to the importance of getting enough sleep for growing bodies and brains. Conversely, she also wants to see if getting enough sleep can act as a buffer or boost for children growing up in poverty or other difficult circumstances.
“One of the things that I really like about the Buffett grant is really the focus on disseminating the research broadly in the community,” she said. She wants her research to reach those who work with young children, so they can better understand the importance of sleep and how sleep problems can have lasting effects, instead of assuming children will grow out of it.
Hasnin also hopes her research project can influence the way parents and child care providers prepare and serve vegetables, so kids eat more nutrient-dense foods and waste less broccoli or carrot sticks. .
Children in daycare eat a significant portion of their daily meals there, she said — breakfast, lunch, snacks. Schools and child care programs have made progress in getting children to eat more fruit, she says, but convincing children to eat cooked or raw vegetables remains a challenge.
She will survey and observe home child care providers and parents in Nebraska to see how food preparation can impact consumption – will children eat more vegetables if roasted with spices rather than steamed?
Caregivers seem to have more success when they incorporate vegetables into the entree of a meal, such as pasta mixed with vegetables, or serve vegetables with a healthy dip like low-fat ranch or hummus, but vendors don’t receive federal reimbursement for dips and many don’t have time to experiment with new recipes.
“We know it is very important to feed children responsively and to encourage children during meals, but in the end, if children do not like the taste of the vegetable, the results of these best practices may not not reach optimal levels,” Hasnin said.
Timothy Nelson, a psychology professor who serves as a mentor to Johnson’s faculty, encouraged graduate students to apply to the Graduate Scholars program.
“Program support provides researchers with one of research’s most valuable resources: time,” he said. “Researchers have the rare luxury of dedicating time to conduct their research – time to develop their ideas, execute a quality project, and disseminate their work in a way that maximizes impact.”