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IES Grant

Title: Assessment of Natural Play for Instructional Planning
Center: NCSER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Lifter, Karin Awardee: Northeastern University
Program: Early Intervention and Early Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5/1/2010 – 4/30/2014 Award Amount: $1,579,549
Type: Measurement Award Number: R324A100100

Purpose: Play is a natural activity that young children use to explore and learn about their world, and how to function in it. Young children with delays in cognition, language, and social interaction show delays and limitations in their play activities that correspond to their other delays and therefore do not benefit in the same way as children without disabilities. The central premise of the Developmental Play Assessment (DPA) instrument is that instructional goals for infants, toddlers, and young children with disabilities, or at risk for disabilities, should include attention to developments in play as well as to developments in other domains. The DPA was designed as a tool to generate a profile of a child’s skills in play for the purposes of guiding instructional planning. The proposed project seeks to (a) adapt the research version of the Developmental Play Assessment- Research (DPA-R) into a user-friendly version for practitioners (Development Play Assessment-Practitioners); and (b) evaluate the psychometric properties and practical feasibility of the Developmental Play Assessment-Practitioners (DPA-P).

Project Activities: Researchers will select and recruit 820 children, with and without disabilities, ranging in age from 8 to 60 months, and conduct longitudinal follow-up of about 217 of these children. Children’s play behaviors observed during study sessions will be recorded and coded into play categories that are organized into a developmental sequence. This sequence will be validated, and the reliability and validity of the checklist for practitioners developed from this work will be assessed.

Products: The main product will be a fully developed and validated assessment for practitioners to use to assess children’s play skills for instructional purposes. Supporting documentation, evidence on the validity and reliability of the DPA-P, and an on-line package for training practitioners to use the instrument will also be available.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will be conducted in natural settings (e.g., homes, day care, early intervention programs, and schools) in Massachusetts.

Population: Children aged 8 to 60 months, with and without disabilities, will be included in this study.

Assessment: The DPA-R was developed for use in research settings for assessment and educational intervention. Its primary purpose is to determine a child’s progress in natural play activities (i.e., provide a profile of skills in play) to guide instructional goals in play. It currently is based on a 30-minute, video recorded sample of a child playing with four groups of toys, with a familiar adult present. These play behaviors are then classified into qualitatively different play categories that are organized in a developmental sequence. Progress through the sequence is based on quantitative analyses to determine which categories the child has attained (i.e., mastered categories), which categories the child is in the process of learning (i.e., emerging categories), and which categories appear to be too difficult at that time (i.e., absent categories). Instructional planning can be targeted around the categories evaluated at the emerging levels of play. For the DPA-P, practitioners will use checklists for direct observation, and use a simple scheme to identify category membership.

Research Design and Methods: A total of 820 children, with and without disabilities, spanning the age range of 8 months to 5 years of age will be recruited for calibrating and scaling the DPA-P. A subset of these children (n = 217) will be followed every 6 months, until 60 months to verify the longitudinal sequence of the play categories and predict readiness for school. Researchers will use Item Response Theory procedures to determine if the DPA reflects increasing play ability with increasing age. Content validity will be assessed through expert panel reviews. Predictive validity will be assessed in the longitudinal study by comparing results on the DPA to performance on a standardized measure and parent reports of school readiness. Concurrent validity will be assessed through comparisons of the DPA with the other assessments measuring similar constructs. Reliability will be assessed to make sure raters consistently identify target behaviors, target behaviors are consistently classified into the appropriate play categories, and that ratings are consistent over time and across raters. Researchers will also assess the internal consistency of the items included in the DPA.

Control Condition: In order to determine play profiles to be used for instructional purposes for children with disabilities or at risk for disabilities, data from children developing without identified disabilities will also be gathered. These data will serve to evaluate the ability of the DPA-P to distinguish between and among these groups of children.

Key Measures: In addition to the DPA, standardized measures of child development and adaptive behavior will be used. A measure of school readiness will also be used to assess predictive validity of the DPA. Two parent and teacher report measures will also be used to assess children’s school readiness and their play with toys.

Data Analytic Strategy: Confirmatory factor analysis will be used to verify the hypothesized structure within the DPA. Multilevel growth curve modeling will be used to investigate the longitudinal sequence of the developmental tasks. Item Response Theory will be used to develop a single scale that is meaningful to a practitioner as an index of level of developmental play. Correlational analyses will be used to assess reliability and validity.

Products and Publications

Book chapter

Lifter, K. (2015). Forward. Family-Centered Early Intervention: Supporting Infants and Toddlers in Natural Environments (pp. ix-x). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Lifter, K., Mason, E.J., and Barton, E.E. (2011). Children's Play: Where we Have Been and Where we Could go. Journal of Early Intervention, 33(4): 281–297. doi:10.1177/1053815111429465

Sampaio, A., and Lifter, K. (2014). Neurosciences of Infant Mental Health Development: Recent Findings and Implications for Counseling Psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61(4): 513–520. doi:10.1037/cou0000035