Barry McNamara  |   Published September 08, 2019

Ready for School

Developmental psychology specialist Carolyn Liesen studies children’s school readiness.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – New Monmouth College faculty member Carolyn Liesen has built her career on studying how to better prepare children for their first-ever day of school.

CAROLYN LIESEN: ?I wanted to pursue that line of work, focusing on the teacher-student relationsh... CAROLYN LIESEN: “I wanted to pursue that line of work, focusing on the teacher-student relationship. I really enjoy the liberal arts philosophy in regards to teaching.”“My area of focus is developmental psychology,” said Liesen, who joined the psychology department this year as an assistant professor. “I focus on studying children, especially in early childhood, around 4-5 years old.

“Specifically, I focus on children’s ability to develop the skills to enter school, which is called ‘school readiness.’ One particular skill that I focus on is self-regulation – the ability for children to control their behavior, their thoughts and their emotions.”

Liesen began working with children when she was in high school, and she continued those efforts as an undergraduate student at St. Louis University.

“I worked on research with my mentor at St. Louis, who I’m still working on research with,” said Liesen. “She helped me foster and direct my interest. That brought me to the human development and family studies program – a Ph.D. program – at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.”

Advice for parents

Based on her research and other previous findings, Liesen says the best thing that parents can do to help prepare their children for school is to start early.

“School readiness starts way before children are in kindergarten,” she said. “In toddlerhood and early childhood, parents should start to foster children’s cognitive development. This doesn’t mean that they should already be quizzing their children on school-related concepts. This means that parents should foster a mentally-stimulating environment.”

Liesen said reading to children is a must, as well as playing with them.

“Parents should play with their children and assist them in completing tasks that challenge the child. The parent-child interaction is so important in establishing a base for later school-related skills.”

A match in Monmouth

In addition to earning a doctorate in her special area of interest, Liesen came away with something else from her time at the University of Wisconsin.

“Even though I came from a Big Ten school that highly values research, I found my love of teaching at UW-Madison,” she said. “I wanted to pursue that line of work, focusing on the teacher-student relationship. I really enjoy the liberal arts philosophy in regards to teaching.”

Not only does Monmouth provide that type of opportunity, but it’s located in a comfortable spot for her.

“I really felt a connection at Monmouth College with the other faculty here and the students,” said Liesen. “Also, I’m originally from the Midwest – I’m a Midwest girl – and so I embrace what Monmouth has to offer.”

This semester, Liesen is teaching the statistics course required for students in the College’s new neuroscience major, as well as “Lifespan Development.” In the spring, in addition to teaching an introductory course in psychology and a course related to children and adolescent development, she will teach “Social Influences and Child Development,” a course she is still busy constructing.

All the while, Liesen will be learning about the surrounding area.

“I want to establish connections in the community with the different schools, with the library, with different organizations,” she said. “From there, I’m planning on establishing a research program, probably collecting data with children and families surrounding self-regulation and school readiness.”

Listen Up … 

Hear Carolyn Liesen discuss her area of research on the 1853 Podcast. Her interview begins at the 6:30 mark. 

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