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From new Objects to new woRds through GEstures: how sensory-motor experiences of objects and tools influence word acquisition in children

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FORGE (From new Objects to new woRds through GEstures: how sensory-motor experiences of objects and tools influence word acquisition in children)

Reporting period: 2016-02-01 to 2018-01-31

Developmental studies have shown that children’s object-directed actions promote learning about new objects. Moreover, acting on objects has been shown to be closely related to early gesture production, which in turn accompanies vocabulary acquisition. Together, these findings suggest a link between actions, gestures and vocabulary acquisition. But how are these related?

During pre-school years vocabulary size increases greatly and continues to grow during elementary school. Various studies have shown that vocabulary size in pre-schoolers is a strong predictor of a number of essential academic skills (e.g. morpho-syntax, narrative skills, reading, creative writing). Furthermore, a delay and slower development in expressive vocabulary can be used for the early identification of children at risk of language impairment. Nonetheless, only few studies to-date have been dedicated to investigating how object-directed actions may influence gestures and vocabulary acquisition during this developmental period.

The FORGE project aims to further our understanding of the relationship between a particular type of object-directed actions (i.e. sensory-motor object exploration) and communication, exploring how different types of sensory-motor experiences with novel objects affects words learning, and the role of gestures in this process, at a critical developmental period. To achieve this scientific goal the project aims to provide: (a) build and test a set of new smart objects and related materials to measure sensory-motor object exploration, integrating different technologies and methods derived from studies on language acquisition, gestures, motor skills and bio-engineering; (b) collect data on the relation between motor exploration and vocabulary acquisition in a group of pre-schoolers. The project also has a second aim in promoting transfer of knowledge and training which will be reached through: (a) topic-specific training in experimental psycholinguistics and studies on language acquisition; (b) hands-on experience in building smart objects and procedures allowing use of sensor-based technology with children; (c) transfer of knowledge on lab management, grant writing and organizing scientific events. All these activities will be carried out through a collaboration between the Language and Cognition Lab, within the Experimental Psychology Research Department at University College London – UCL and the Laboratory of Biomedical Robotics and Biomicrosystems (LBRB) at the University Campus Bio-Medico Rome – UCBM.
During the duration of the project consistent time was dedicated to building and testing new smart objects and procedures for the collection of data on the role of sensory-motor experience with objects on gesture production and word comprehension. In particular, the following materials were developed:
- production and preliminary testing of a set of 8 smart objects printed in 3D and designed from historical human tools, allowing to embed IMU sensors for the assessment of kinematic data during motor exploration and use in young children
- production and preliminary testing of a booklet with 16 2D images of objects and object functions to elicit gesture production in children
- production and preliminary testing of an image-based lexical test to evaluate learning of new words linked to novel objects in English-speaking or Italian-speaking children
Project objectives and topics have been introduced to the public during four presentations within international peer-reviewed conferences and two seminars on project topics respectively in the UK and in Italy.
Project results include:
1. construction and testing of new smart objects and dedicated procedures to evaluate the impact of sensory-motor object exploration on gesture production and vocabulary learning in pre-schoolers;
2. transfer of knowledge and training in: experimental psycholinguistics and language acquisition, 3D drawing and printing smart objects, using sensor technologies for data collection in pre-schoolers, lab management, grant writing, organizing scientific events and publications in international peer-reviewed journals and volumes.
Project results and materials are currently being exploited in further research projects in the UK and in Italy.
The FORGE project allowed to build and test necessary materials to be applied in future research on the role of motor skills on vocabulary acquisition in children. Proposals on how to exploit these materials in future projects have already been made and will be further pursued in order to obtain the necessary data supporting parents and educators alike. Relevant contacts have been made to support future clinical research, allowing to use materials built and tested within the FORGE project with clinical populations, while fostering collaborations between research teams and extending the project’s current outcomes.
On the basis of results from the FORGE project, new materials to assess the relationship between motor and communication skills in clinical populations can be developed.
As more and more the lives of people in the EU Member States are determined by the means of communication, transfer of knowledge, and interaction of the information society. The richness of language diversity within the Community provides relevant economic challenges to the implementation of infrastructures and integrative networks. Therefore, providing better understanding of cognitive skills and methods supporting vocabulary acquisition in children is essential towards both smart and inclusive growth within the EU society. Richness of vocabulary also supports young individuals’ potential for mobility across the EU, promoting prospects for study and training in other member states, while easing the transition from the world of education to that of work.
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