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A closer look inside Bing Nursery School

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Located in the southeast corner of Stanford’s campus, Bing Nursery School teaches undergraduate students about child development through seminars, observation opportunities and hands-on experiences, along with providing a laboratory setting for research in child development. The Daily took a closer look at the history and institutional development of research at Bing.

The mission of Bing Nursery School revolves around promoting the understanding of child development and improving the lives of young children, and includes teaching Stanford students about children through observation and first-hand experience. Each year Bing serves more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students and provides opportunities for independent study, internships and work study.

Four undergraduate courses spanning the psychology and human biology departments are taught at Bing and focus on child development and education. Students attend weekly seminars, participate in the classroom as student teachers, write weekly journals about their classroom experience and receive mentoring from Bing teachers.

Jennifer Winters and Beth Wise, who co-teach PSYCH 147: “Development in Early Childhood,” point out the benefits of having a laboratory nursery school so close to campus. By interacting with the children, students are able to understand the ways in which abstract concepts discussed in readings and lectures, such as the role of play in social and emotional development, affect young children in real life. 

“Students often take the chance to reflect on their own childhoods and think about how the environment they grew up in affected their personality and beliefs,” Winters said.

Another aspect of Bing’s relationship with Stanford centers on the research that professors routinely conduct at the nursery school. Since World War II — when psychology faculty worked at a small school at the edge of Escondido Village and at the nursery school attached to the Stanford Village housing complex in Menlo Park — to the present day, researchers at Bing have conducted experiments that are among the most cited in the history of psychology. 

These include Walter Mischel’s “Marshmallow Studies” (conducted between 1968 and 1974) on the delay of gratification and social cognitive approach to personality, Ellen Markman’s 1984 research on how children learn language, Mark Lepper’s 1973 study on the effect of reward on children’s behavior and Albert Bandura’s 1961 study on observational learning.

Today, Bing continues to host prominent researchers and their studies. Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor at the School of Medicine, is currently examining biomarkers of risk and resilience in preschool children. Intrigued by the mental health issues that plague high schoolers across the country, Anand hopes to understand how adverse experiences during early childhood affect how a person responds to stress.

Since 2017, he has been working with children at Bing to obtain data to compile a range of average stress levels in young children, against which he can interpret abnormal values. He does this by visiting the nursery school once or twice a week to collect hair samples and measure the cortisol and oxytocin that they contain. 

Anand said the procedure is painless and is conducted in an atmosphere that minimizes any potential harmful effects on the child. 

“We establish rapport with the child and only proceed when he or she is ready and willing to participate,” he added. “Nothing is forced on the children, and we try to make it fun and playful.” 

His research team also provides a financial incentive for parents to sign their children up to participate in the study.

In the past four decades, Bing has seen a shift in both research interests and ethics. Research that had previously been centered around children’s social development now focuses on cognitive development.  Furthermore, the guidelines surrounding ethical research have become more comprehensive.

Today, Stanford’s Institutional Review Board inspects all research projects, and Bing ensures that research coordinators undergo an orientation to learn how to talk to and interact with children. Winters and Wise also observe a run-through of each experiment at Bing and provide feedback for researchers. 

They emphasized that each study is conducted in a pleasant way that minimizes potential negative effects on children. For example, if a research subject is unable to finish a puzzle in the allotted time, the researcher will suggest that they complete it together.

Anand believes that firm research guidelines are necessary to ensure that research is effective and ethical.

“Bing has a wonderful culture where people are accepting of and excited about research, and they make sure it runs smoothly,” he said.

Contact Marianne Lu at mlu23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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