Young Children’s Demonstrated Understanding of Hurricanes



We examine young children’s knowledge of disasters in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Knowledge was measured by teacher reports of child-initiated spontaneous play in the classrooms and by children’s responses to an interview designed to measure their knowledge of hurricanes in general and Katrina and Rita in particular. Findings indicated age-related differences, with older children demonstrating more knowledge than younger children. Analysis of teacher-reported specific activities indicated that children’s demonstrated knowledge was different by region (with children more directly impacted by hurricanes demonstrating more knowledge of hurricanes than children less directly impacted) and seemed to reflect the stages of disasters: preparation, response, and recovery.


School District Play Activity Teacher Survey Early Childhood Classroom Dramatic Play 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This chapter is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0555387 and the Louisiana Board of Regents (PI: T. Buchanan). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this chapter are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

Diane C. Burts and Timothy Page were co-investigators on this project. Diane Burts’ work on the materials and protocol as well as her work with Timothy Page to develop the stories for the interviews were critically important to this project. Virginia Gil-Rivas provided the tools used to measure teachers’ psychological well-being, training, and teachers’ and children’s hurricane-related personal experiences. Ana Morales provided invaluable assistance throughout the entire project. We are grateful to these wonderful colleagues. We appreciate the hard work of research team members Rhonda Norwood, Susheel Brahmeshwarkar, Sharbari Dey, and Kyung-Ran Kim. We are deeply indebted to project consultant David Klahr who offered critically important support and insight and to the teachers and children who made this study possible.


  1. Aghayan, C., Schellhaas, A., Wayne, A., Burts, D. C., Buchanan, T., & Benedict, J. (2005). Project Katrina. Early childhood research and practice. 7. Retrieved from
  2. Allen, M., Jerome, A., White, A., Marston, S., Lamb, S., & Pope, D. (2002). The preparation of school psychologists for crisis intervention. Psychology in the Schools, 39, 427–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, W. A. (2005). Bringing children into focus on the social science disaster research agenda. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 23, 159–175.Google Scholar
  4. Bahrick, L. E., Parker, J. F., Fivush, R., & Levitt, M. (1998). The effects of stress on young children’s memory for a natural disaster. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 4, 308–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrett, E. J., Ausbrooks, C. Y. B., & Martinez-Coscio, M. (2008). The school as a source of support for Katrina-evacuated youth. Children, Youth and Environments, 18, 202–236.Google Scholar
  6. Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  7. Bonvillian, J. D., & Orlansky, M. D. (1983). Developmental milestones: Sign language acquisition and motor development. Child Development, 54, 1435–1445.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1971). The abstraction of linguistic ideas. Cognitive Psychology, 2, 331–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Google Scholar
  10. Bretherton, I., & Oppenheim, D. (2003). The MacArthur Story Stem Battery: Development, administration, reliability, validity and reflections about meaning. In R. N. Emde, D. P. Wolf, & D. Oppenheim (Eds.), Revealing the inner worlds of young children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and parent-child narrative (pp. 55–80). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Broaders, S., Cook, S., Mitchell, Z., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2007). Making children gesture brings out implicit knowledge and leads to learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 136, 539–550.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Brodkin, A. M., & Coleman, M. F. (1994). Equip kids to deal with disaster. Instructor, 103, 17–18.Google Scholar
  13. Buchanan, T., Casbergue, R.M., & Baumgartner, J. (2009). Consequences for classroom environments and school personnel: Evaluating Katrina’s effect on schools and system response. In R. P. Kilmer, V. Gil-Rivas, R. G. Tedeschi, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Meeting the needs of children, families, and communities post-disaster: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association (in press).Google Scholar
  14. Case, H. (2008, November). Pets evacuation and transportation standards act (PETS act). The American Veterinary Medical Association Advocate, Retrieved from
  15. Caseley, J. (1994). Hurricane Harry. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  16. Charlesworth, R. (2008). Understanding child development. Florence, KY: Delmar Cengage.Google Scholar
  17. Cohen, D., Stern, V., & Balaban, N. (1996). Observing and recording the behavior of young children. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  18. Damiani, V. B. (2006). Crisis prevention and intervention in the classroom: What teachers should know. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  19. Dewan, S. (2007, September 17). Using crayons to exorcise Katrina. The New York Times.Google Scholar
  20. Eaton, L. (2007, December 7). Many children struggling after '05 storms. New York Times, p. 24.Google Scholar
  21. Elischberger, H.B. (2005). The effects of prior knowledge on children’s memory and suggestibility. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 92, 2247–2275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Emde, R. N., Wolf, D. P., & Oppenheim, D. (Eds.). (2003). Revealing the inner worlds of young children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and parent-child narratives. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Fairbrother, G., Stuber, J., Galea, S., Pfefferbaum, B., & Fleishman, A. R. (2004). Unmet need for counseling services by children in New York City after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center: Implications for pediatricians. Pediatrics, 113, 1367–1374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fothergill, A., & Peek, L. (2006). Surviving catastrophe: A study of children in Hurricane Katrina. Learning from catastrophe: Quick response research in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Boulder: Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, pp. 97–130.Google Scholar
  25. Frost, J. L. (2005). Lessons from disasters: Play, work and the creative arts. Childhood Education, 82, 2–8.Google Scholar
  26. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  27. Gullo, D. F. (2005). Understanding assessment and evaluation in early childhood education (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  28. Gurwitch, R. H., Sullivan, M. A., & Long, P. J. (1998). The impact of trauma and disaster on young children. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 7, 19–32.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Honig, A. S. (2005). Emotional milestones and their link to learning. Infants & Toddlers. Early Childhood Today, 20, 30–32.Google Scholar
  30. Janson, G. R., & King, M. A. (2006). Emotional security in the classroom: What works for young children. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 98, 70–74.Google Scholar
  31. Jimerson, S. R., Brock, S. E., & Pletcher, S. W. (2005). An integrated model of school crisis preparedness and intervention. School Psychology International, 26, 275–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kessler, R., Galea, S., Gruber, M., Sampson, N., Ursano, R., & Wessley, S. (2008). Trends in mental illness and suicidality after Hurricane Katrina. Molecular Psychiatry, 13, 374–384.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kenardy, J., & Piercy, J. A. (2006). Effect of information provision on trauma symptoms following therapeutic writing. Australian Psychologist, 41, 205–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kenardy, J., Thompson, K., LeBrocque, R., & Olsson, K. (2008). Information-provision intervention for children and their parents following pediatric accidental injury. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 17, 316–325.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kent, J. D. (2006, May). 2005 Louisiana hurricane impact atlas, Vol. 1. Louisiana Geographic Information Center. Retrieved May 29, 2007, from
  36. Klein, K. (1982). Disconfirmed expectancies and imagined distress in a role-play of a visit to the dentist. Motivation and Emotion, 6, 181–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kliff, S., & Skipp, C. (2008, October 6). Overlooked: The littlest evacuees. Newsweek. Retrieved from
  38. Klingman, A. (1978). Children in stress: Anticipatory guidance in the framework of the educational system. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 57, 22–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Knox, K. S., & Roberts, A. R. (2005). Crisis intervention and crisis team models in schools. Children and Schools, 27, 93–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lacroix, L., Rousseau, C., Gauthier, M. F., Singh, A., Giguère, N., & Lemzoudi, Y. (2007). Immigrant and refugee preschoolers’ sand-play representations of the tsunami. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 34, 99–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Liu, A., & Plyer, A. (2008). Summary of findings: The state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina: An overview. The New Orleans Index. Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program & Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.Google Scholar
  42. Louisiana Recovery Authority. (2006). Initial quarterly report. Retrieved May 31, 2007, from,
  43. Mack, C., & Smith, T. B. (1991). Separation and loss: A handbook for early childhood professionals. Pittsburgh, PA: Generations Together.Google Scholar
  44. Marti, E. (2003). Strengths and weaknesses of cognition over preschool years. In J. Valsiner & K.J Connolly (Eds.), Handbook of Developmental Psychology. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  45. McFarland, C., & Ross, M. (1987). The relation between current impressions and memories of self and dating partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13, 228–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mercuri, A., & Angelique, H. L. (2004). Children’s responses to natural, technological, and na-tech disasters. Community Mental Health Journal, 40, 167–175.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Miller, K. (1996). The crisis manual for early childhood teachers: How to handle the really difficult problems. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House, Inc.Google Scholar
  48. Mills, R. T., & Krantz, D. S. (1979). Information, choice, and reactions to stress: A field experiment in a blood bank with laboratory analogue. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 608–620.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Osofsky, J. D. (2007). Young children and trauma: Intervention and trauma. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  50. Page, T. (2001). The social meaning of children’s narratives: A review of the attachment-based narrative story stem technique. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 3, 171–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pane, J. F., McCaffrey, D. F., Kalra, N., & Zhou, A. J. (2008). Effects of student displacement in Louisiana during the first academic year after the hurricanes of 2005. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 13, 168–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Paulson, A. (2005, September 28). At school for storm evacuees, hugs before homework. The Christian Science Monitor, p 1.Google Scholar
  53. Peek, L. (2008). Children and disasters: Understanding vulnerability, developing capacities, and promoting resilience – An introduction. Children, Youth and Environments, 18, 1–29.Google Scholar
  54. Pfefferbaum, R. L., Fairbrother, G., Brandt, E. N., Robertson, M. J., Gurwitch, R. H., & Stuber, J. (2004). Teachers in the aftermath of terrorism: A case study of one New York City school. Community Health, 27, 250–259.Google Scholar
  55. Plummer, C. (2008). Understanding trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Baton Rouge, LA: Author.Google Scholar
  56. Proctor, L. J., Fauchier, A., Oliver, P. H., Ramos, M. C., Rios, M. A., & Margolin, G. (2007). Family context and young children’s response to earthquake. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 941–949.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Redlener, I., DeRosa, C., & Hut, R. (2008). Legacy of shame: The on-going public health disaster of children struggling in post-Katrina Louisiana. New York: The Children’s Health Fund and the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.Google Scholar
  58. Rowley, K. (2007). GulfGov reports: An examination of the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the public school districts in 15 communities. Baton Rouge, LA: Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and Albany, NY: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.Google Scholar
  59. Saylor, C. F., Swenson, C. C., & Powell, P. (1992). Hurricane Hugo blows down the broccoli: Preschoolers’ post-disaster play and adjustment. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 22, 139–149.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Saylor, C. F., Swenson, C. C., Reynolds, S. S., & Taylor, M. (1999). The Pediatric Emotional Distress Scale: A brief screening measure for young children exposed to traumatic events. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 28, 70–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Scheeringa, M. S., Zeanah, C. H., Myers, L., & Putnam, F. W. (2003). New findings on alternative criteria for PTSD in preschool children. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 4, 561–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schellhaas, A., Burts, D. C., & Aghayan, C. (2007). Reflecting on “Project Katrina” and developmentally appropriate practices: A graduate student’s perspective. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28, 77–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shreve, R., Danbom, K., & Hanhan, S. (2002). “Wen the Flood Km We Had to Lv”: Children’s understandings of disaster. Language Arts, 80, 100–108.Google Scholar
  64. Swenson, C. C., Saylor, C. F., Powell, M. P., Stokes, S. J., Foster, K. Y., & Belter, R. W. (1996). Impact of a natural disaster on preschool children: Adjustment 14 months after a hurricane. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 66, 122–130.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vernberg, E. M., LaGreca, A. M., Silverman, W. K., & Prinstein, M. J. (1996). Prediction of posttraumatic stress symptoms in children after Hurricane Andrew. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 237–248.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Ward, M. E., Shelley, K., Kaase, K., & Pane, J. F. (2008). Hurricane Katrina: A longitudinal study of the achievement and behavior of displaced students. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 13, 297–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wasserstein, S. B., & LaGreca, A. M. (1998). Hurricane drew: Parent conflict as a moderator of children’s adjustment. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 20, 212–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. What About the Children: A National Commission Starts Work to Make Sure the Young Aren’t Forgotten During Disasters. (2008, October 14). The Washington Post, Retrieved from
  69. Wolfe, C. D., & Bell, M. A. (2007). The integration of cognition and emotion during infancy and early childhood: Regulatory processes associated with the development of working memory. Brain & Cognition, 65, 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Zeece, P. D. (2001). Young children’s understanding of the shuttle disaster (1986). The Journal of Psychology, 124, 591–593.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational TheoryPolicy and Practice and Life Course and Aging CenterBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Theory, Policy and PracticeLSUBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Division Family, Child and Consumer SciencesSchool of Human Ecology, Louidiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

Personalised recommendations