Prof. Esther Adi-Japha is a Lecturer at the School of Education, where she is the Head of the Child Learning and Development Laboratory. She is also a researcher at the Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center. Research in Adi-Japha’s lab focuses on (a) understanding the neural substrate underlying learning in domains that involve motor and cognitive development, and (b) assessing children’s development in the context of childcare settings.
Children’s drawings reveal emotional clues, but drawing – as well as writing – can reveal cognitive data. Adi-Japha’s group studies cognitive development using children’s drawings and emerging writing. Drawing and writing are daily activities that provide an opportunity to study the underlying brain functions in naturally occurring situations.
Children learn to represent their environment in a way that is both imaginative and yet telling enough to provide identification of objects and scenes. In order to do so, children need to practice a variety of skills important for their development. Research in Adi-Japha’s lab focuses on fine motor skills, cognitive flexibility and the child’s understanding of the viewer perspective.
Competent handwriting is an essential skill that constitutes a fundamental goal of early school years. Efficient handwriting performance relies on perceptual grapho-motor abilities as well as on attention and capable linguistic processing.
Adi-Japha and her group study the development of skilled handwriting in adults, in typically developing children, and in children with developmental disorders such as attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and specific language impairment (SLI). The research is carried out using digital tablets that enable detailed analysis of the kinematics of production.
Skilled motor performance—such as buttoning buttons, tying shoelaces, cutting with scissors—constitutes a major part of children’s everyday life. Whereas in adults the study of acquisition and long-term retention of new skills has garnered much interest, in children, the studies are sparse. Research in Adi-Japha’s lab focuses on the childhood advantage in skill learning, and on the course of learning in developmental disorders.
Studies are done in collaboration with leading labs both within Israel and internationally (e.g., Prof. Avi Karni, Haifa University; Prof. Eli Vakil, Bar-Ilan University; Prof. Michael Ullman, Georgetown University). Adi-Japha’s lab specializes in utilizing mathematical models that enable fine-grained analyses of the learning process over time.
Many young children spend a considerable part of their early lives in non-parental childcare. In Israel, about half of children aged 0-3 are enrolled in formal childcare, with 60% enrolled in public care (e.g., WIZO, Na’amat).
Adi-Japha’s team at the early childhood unit studies childcare and parental variables related to children’s’ cognitive (pre-academic) and social development. They employ observational methods in small scale studies and analyze large scale longitudinal data from the US. This line of research is directly relevant to practitioners and decision makers in the field.
Adi-Japha’s team continues to study human functioning that involves motor and cognition. They aim to expand the study of children’s drawings to the study of children’s art work (to include music, sculpture and dance) and to relate these issues to the child’s developing language skills.
In the area of writing and motor skill learning, they aim to find optimal protocols for learning in children, in adults, and in individuals with developmental disabilities. Their studies in childcare settings will focus on children’s social development and on the relationship between childcare and parental care.