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Public PhD Defense of Vanessa Russo



Vanessa Russo, a PhD candidate in the Doctoral Program in Psychology, will defend the thesis titled "The impact of playgroups for children and families: the role of dosage, quality and long-term effects". The public defense is scheduled for December 11 at 10:30 at the room B1.02 of Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon.



Abstract

Playgroups are gatherings for young children and their caregivers to engage in social and play-based activities. Evidence shows that playgroups promote social and cognitive outcomes for families and children. However, weaknesses in the design of previous research limit the internal and external validity of findings and, to date, no studies have been conducted examining long-term effects of playgroups. The aim of this thesis was to extend the experimental trial of an innovative playgroup program in Portugal by testing the effects of dosage and quality on home environment and caregiving practices, and on children’s cognitive development, temperament and behavior. We also aimed to monitor long-term impacts of playgroups on these outcomes. We conducted three studies: first, we developed and validated the first-ever measure of playgroup quality, the Playgroup Environment Rating Scale; second, we tested the experimental association between playgroup dosage and the outcomes for families and children using the Analysis of Symmetrically Predicted Endogenous Subgroups; third, we examined the long-term effects of playgroups on outcomes. Findings suggested that higher play-based quality was positively associated with higher levels of children’s language. We also found that playgroups are beneficial for children, and that their effects are still significant in the long term. The impacts are primarily on children’s language, especially for those who have a higher dosage of playgroups attendance. Finally, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite attending playgroups less often than more privileged ones, benefitted the most. This research provided theoretical and methodological contributions and informed public policies and practices.

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