Skip to Content

College of Education

Professor studies integrated approach to improving childhood skills and development

By Amanda Hernandez

A researcher from the College of Education at the University of South Carolina plans to unlock how specific interventions can positively impact a child’s social, behavioral and motor skill development. And the results could benefit teachers and schoolchildren nationwide.

“This project is significant, as children from predominantly low socio-economic backgrounds face greater risk for a variety of developmental difficulties,” says Ali Brian, principal investigator. “Early childhood is a critical time to prevent the identified and addressable risk factors from manifesting into lifespan difficulties.”

Brian’s study will integrate two intervention components to concurrently address three areas of development — social-emotional, behavioral and gross motor. The classroom component focuses on social-emotional and behavioral functioning, while a playground-located training program primarily targets gross motor skill development.

Gross motor skills control the large muscles of the body for walking, running, jumping and other activities. Encouraging gross motor skills requires a safe, open play space, peers to interact with, and some adult supervision. Helping a child succeed in gross motor tasks requires patience and opportunities for a child to practice desired skills.

“The key assumption is that the integrated intervention, combining classroom strategies with play-based activities, will achieve broader impact than what a single-focus intervention in either domain could have achieved,” Brian says.

Brian is confident that her research could have a positive impact on children and teachers across South Carolina.

“We hope that the results of the integrated intervention will improve the gross motor and social-emotional development of the children who participate,” she says. “ We also think that the teachers who participate will gain positive behavior management strategies that can support social-emotional and pro-social behaviors of their students.”

The study will be funded through an $11.6 million grant from the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), part of the National Institutes of Health. COBRE helps support innovative, state-of-the-art biomedical and behavioral research centers at eligible universities, such as UofSC. Brian’s study in the College of Education, along with others under COBRE being done in colleges across the university, has the capacity to improve quality of life statewide and beyond.

In the 2019 fiscal year, UofSC received an increase in funding from highly competitive sources like the NIH. UofSC Vice President for Research Prakash Nagarkatti credits the growth in funding to three factors: interdisciplinary collaboration, state-focused research and preventative-focused research. These three factors create impactful research projects that attract funding.

“Looking at any of the major problems our society faces … I don’t think a single investigator or discipline can find solutions by themselves. Here, at UofSC, the faculty in many different colleges have opportunities to collaborate,” Nagarkatti says.

Nagarkatti says collaboration ensures that researchers are not working “in silos” and are capitalizing on each other’s expertise and research.

College of Pharmacy professor Igor B. Roninson has also seen the benefits that COBRE grants provide for advancing their research projects.

“I have witnessed firsthand how NIH COBRE grants transform an institution like ours, providing funding and motivation for coordinating research endeavors in medically important and fundable fields, through building research resource infrastructure, enabling targeted faculty recruitment and providing mentorship to new faculty,” Roninson says.

As for Brian’s study, she says the end result of her research could have nationwide benefits.

“Next steps would be to scale up to a larger, randomized control trial that could be rolled out nationally, eventually.” Brian says. “Ultimately, we hope that teachers in the study will maintain the strategies they learn in this project for a long time to come.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.