Early Childhood Education and Care

A growing body of research literature documents the nature, process, and consequences of early childhood learning and development, and directs attention to the role of risk and protective factors in children's development. Research in HDFS on early childhood education focuses specifically on understanding the relations between home and school factors that contribute to children's positive developmental and learning outcomes. A primary research focus is on the design and evaluation of targeted interventions that support the development of children's social, cognitive and academic competence.

Faculty Research

Jennifer Dobbs-Oates

Dr. Dobbs-Oates has worked in the area of school readiness, particularly children’s learning (math and literacy) and behavior development in the context of child care settings. Children at risk due to poverty are a special interest.

Robert Duncan

Dr. Duncan’s work focuses on the role of early childhood education and environments for promoting children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills.  He is particularly interested in how early childhood policies and interventions promote successful development and whether/how they translate into long-run impacts.

Sarah Eason

Dr. Eason’s work investigates how informal learning environments can support and enhance young children’s learning in the classroom. Much of her work focuses on early math learning, and how to promote family engagement in preschoolers’ learning.

James Elicker

In addition to research on quality interactions between teachers and children in early childhood programs, Dr. Elicker designs and carries out comprehensive evaluations of large-scale early childhood programs and quality improvement initiatives. Current projects include multi-year evaluations of Indiana’s child care quality and improvement system, Paths to QUALITY, and Indiana’s new public Pre-K program. Under his guidance his students are also studying the learning potential of play with blocks and other constructive materials as a form of “early engineering.”

Carolyn McCormick

Dr. McCormick is interested in understanding predictors and moderators of variation in developmental trajectories of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. This work has implications for understanding the mechanisms for why early intervention works for some children on the spectrum and conversely why it may be ineffective for other children. She is also working to develop objective outcome measures for intervention research.

Deborah Nichols

Dr. Nichols' research specifically examines the interface between cognitive development and environmental contexts including media, child care, and early elementary school settings with the goal of determining whether and how these settings can be joined with other developmental supports to create effective early learning interventions. She focuses almost exclusively on the educational and social needs of young children at-risk for later school failure and their families who are experiencing chronic poverty.

Megan Purcell

Dr. Purcell's research and teaching are intertwined and drive her preparation of providers who will serve young children with and without disabilities and their families. Through best practice and the implementation of the DEC Recommended Practices, we see an increase in positive outcomes for children and families. Her ultimate goal is to work with and prepare current and future early childhood educators and early interventionists to provide highly effective, inclusive services for ALL children to achieve the best possible outcomes.

David Purpura

In Dr. Purpura's research, he focuses on understanding how young children learn math. He studies how math skills develop, how early literacy and cognitive skills affect math development, and how to identify early those children likely to struggle later on in math.

Sara Schmitt

Dr. Schmitt is interested in the effects of early care and education experiences on children’s school readiness and the extent to which high quality early care and education buffers the impact of poverty and other risk factors.


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