School Mobility: Implications for Children’s Development

November 30, 2015

More than one-fifth of children in the United States are living in poverty. Children growing up in poverty face numerous adversities that can negatively affect their learning and development, starting at a very early age. For example, these children are less likely to have access to books and to hear rich vocabulary; and are more likely to be exposed to violence in their neighborhoods, attend low-quality, under-resourced schools, have stressed parents, live in crowded and/or noisy homes, and have unstable home environments. All of these stressful life experiences can compromise children’s learning, as well as their cognitive and social-emotional development.

The article “Does school mobility place elementary school children at risk for lower math achievement? The mediating role of cognitive dysregulation.” focuses on one specific poverty-related risk: school mobility, or changing schools. Approximately 45% of children change schools at least one time prior to the end of third grade, but rates of school mobility are even higher for low-income, ethnic minority students living in urban areas. Further, changing schools has been linked to lower academic achievement, particularly when children experience many school changes over a short period of time.

boy playing with blocks 2Less is known about why changing schools negatively affects children’s academic achievement, or how it affects children’s self-regulation. Of course, it may be that changing schools simply disrupts learning, particularly if children miss school or experience a discontinuity in curricula. However, the mechanism may be more complex. Building on developmental psychology theory and research that poverty-related risks are stressful, and that stress is associated with lower self-regulation, we tested the hypothesis that school mobility, one poverty-related risk, would compromise children’s self-regulation. And, based on prior research demonstrating a strong association between children’s self-regulation and math skills, we hypothesized that lower self-regulation would negatively affect children’s math skills. Here we define self-regulation as higher-order cognitive abilities that involve attention, inhibitory control, and planning. The current paper only focused on math achievement and did not measure reading achievement for several reasons. First, there is an abundance of prior research finding strong associations between children’s self-regulation and math achievement. Second, neuroscience research supports similar underlying brain regions involved self-regulation and solving math problems. And third, learning and doing math requires children to use complex, effortful, higher-order processes that also underlie self-regulation abilities.

We used data from the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSPR) which was an intervention implemented in Head Start classrooms in areas of concentrated poverty in Chicago. The 602 children initially enrolled in CSRP were predominantly Black or Hispanic and living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Children were followed from ages 3 or 4 years old, through fourth grade. The sample for the current study is limited to 381 students for whom there was available data from Head Start through fourth grade. On average, children moved 1.38 times between Head Start and third grade. Forty children changed schools 3 or 4 times during this time period, which we defined as “frequent mobility”.

We found a linear “dosage” effect of school mobility predicting children’s fourth grade math achievement such that children scored 3.35 points lower on fourth grade math achievement tests for each time they changed schools between Head Start and third grade. This translates into 2.5 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently, 3 or 4 times over the five years, demonstrated lower math achievement in fourth grade–they scored 10.48 points lower on the state standardized test, an equivalent of 8 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently were also reported by their teachers to have lower self-regulation skills. These lower levels of self-regulation were found to partially explain why children who changed schools frequently scored lower on math achievement tests. Self-regulation explained about 45% of the association between changing schools frequently and math achievement in fourth grade. It is important to note, however, that we did not find a difference in math achievement or self-regulation between children who never moved and those that moved at least once time.

Taken together, the results of this study suggest that problems with memory, attention, and inhibitory control may result from the stress associated with changing schools frequently during early elementary school, which in turn negatively affects children’s math achievement. The potentially harmful effects of school mobility for young children, especially when it occurs frequently, highlights the need for interventions, policies, and practices to prevent school mobility and/or support children, families, and teachers when it does occur. School-based interventions to increase family engagement and satisfaction with the school by fostering positive relationships between parents and school staff are one promising strategy for preventing school mobility.

–By Allison Friedman-Krauss, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER




Early STEM – Fuel for Learning

October 6, 2015

José, a preschooler in Mrs. Hardy’s classroom, had never talked in class. He was a dual language learner (DLL), and it was already December. His teacher was participating in our SciMath-DLL professional development project where she had been learning about how to incorporate moScreen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.23 AMre science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) into her classroom and how to engage DLLs in these activities. One day, she set out ramps and cars and let the kids play with them. Then she asked the children if they knew how they might make the cars go down the ramps more quickly? “Blocks!” said José, as he ran to the block center to get blocks to prop up his ramp. His classmate, Molly, looked shocked and said, ‘He talked!” This child’s teacher was amazed at how rich (although relatively simple) STEM materials provided the fodder needed to encourage José to express himself out loud.

Children are natural scientists and are curious about their world. Even infants have an innate sense of quantity that is the foundation for more complex mathematics, such as counting and geometry (e.g., Hespos et al., 2012). Young children–including my 19-month-old–love to throw or drop objects down the stairs to observe what will happen . . . over and over again. Although not fully verbalized, they are conducting trials to test out a hypothesis about gravity and the physics of movement based on prior experience!

SciMath-DLL is a professional development model that aims to embrace these natural predispositions, to help teachers find the STEM in what children are already doing, and to design their own intentional learning experiences for their children. SciMath-DLL seeks to improve the quality of early STEM teaching and learning for all children, including DLLs. This is important. Recent research that has found that how children do in math and science by the end of preschool predicts how well they will do in these subjects later–even into adolescence (Duncan et al., 2007; Watts et al., 2014; Grissmer et al, 2010)! And early math skills predict later reading skills too–even better than early reading skills predict later reading. Unfortunately, many children and especially children who live in low-resource communities or who are DLLs, start preschool behind their peers in key domains and stay behind without intervention (Barnett, 2008; Denton & West, 2002).Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.50 AM

The challenge is that many early childhood educators do not have the confidence or background knowledge to teach STEM effectively (Greenfield et al., 2009) or to work with DLLs (Freedson, 2010). Many educators did not participate in many–or any–STEM courses in their pre-service preparation programs (Zaslow et al., 2010). Our model aims to address this issue by using key STEM concepts as focal points at in-service interactive workshops, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and individual Reflective Coaching Cycles (RCCs). We weave throughout all components our approach to teaching STEM to young children. For example, we encourage educators to look for the STEM in every day activities (e.g., figuring out how many orange slices are needed at snack time so every child gets one), to thoughtfully expand the language strategies they use with children (e.g., “Emmanuel said he thinks the metal ball will sink in water. Emmanuel, why do you think that?”), to incorporate literature into STEM activities (fiction and nonfiction), and to “think outside the kit” when gathering materials to explore (e.g., using found or recycled materials to explore sorting).

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.30 AMOne teacher who was working with us–Ms. Anabela–who had done a length measurement lesson with her kids using worksheets and different types of units, reflected on her lesson: “My first lesson was a complete disaster because I had too much going on . . . After we talked about it, and I was like duh. The objective was there; the idea was there; the whole mapping it out, though, was not.” Ms. Anabela, in a later class, asked her kids how they might measure themselves using blocks on the rug. The teacher’s and children’s ideas of what measurement could look like expanded. The students were so excited to find out who was taller, that they asked Ms. Anabela and then the assistant teacher to be measured as well. The kids found additional ways to do measurement around the classroom to solve real problems (e.g., keeping track of the height of the water in the water table).

Just as José and Ms. Anabela found concepts that fueled their interests and promoted learning across STEM and language, we hope that other children and teachers will find the joy in STEM that encourages and motivates them to push their own learning and teaching boundaries. SciMath-DLL works with teachers to reflect on their practice, build their STEM knowledge base, and enrich their teaching using an innovative approach to professional development. We view our model as collaborative, with all of us bringing our own expertise to the table in a common goal to improve STEM learning for all young children.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.41.41 AMTo learn more about SciMath-DLL, please visit, or email us! Dr. Alissa Lange, Principal Investigator ( Hebbah El-Moslimany, Project Coordinator (

Work presented here is made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1019576 & DRL-1417040). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

–Alissa A. Lange, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER


What is Developmentally Appropriate Math?

April 15, 2015

Douglas H. Clements, preschool and kindergarten teacher, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, Executive Director, Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, and one of the members of the Common Core work groups, responds (with assistance from Bill McCallum) on the issue of Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

Perhaps the most common criticism of the Common Core State Standards-Mathematics (CCSS-M) for young children is that they are not “developmentally appropriate” (e.g., Meisels, 2011). Unfortunately, the phrase “developmentally appropriate” too often functions as a Rorschach test for whatever a person wants to see or argue against.

Often, negative evaluations are based on an implicit acceptance of the view that all “fives” can and especially cannot do certain things. However, much of the mathematical thinking that some people say “cannot be done” until age 7 (or whatever) can be learned by children—most children—in high-quality environments. Further, children learn such thinking with understanding and joy—that’s developmentally appropriate.


Photo Credit: Casey R. Brown

Let’s consider some concrete examples. One concern is that 5-6-year-olds are not “ready” to learn place value. Perhaps the phrase itself—“place value”—raises the issue. Close inspection, however, reveals little reason for worry. First, note that research has identified at least seven developmental levels of learning place value, from very early concepts of grouping to understand the exponential nature of number systems in multiple bases (Clements & Sarama, 2014; Fuson, Smith, & Lo Cicero, 1997; Fuson, Wearne, et al., 1997; Rogers, 2012). Examination of the CCSS-M shows that kindergarten children only need to “Work with numbers 11–19 to gain foundations for place value” (p. 12, emphasis added) and first graders “Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones” such as knowing that “The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and 0 ones).” Those are challenging but (for vast majority of children) achievable understandings (did you notice how many times the CCSS-M’s goals involve “understanding”)?

Personally, I have many concrete experiences with preschoolers who, given high-quality learning experiences, successfully tackle these ideas and more (Clements & Sarama, 2007, 2008). And love doing it. In Boston, a mother said she wasn’t sure her preschooler could understand mathematical ideas until he told her, “Eleven. That’s just ten and one, isn’t it?”

Talking about the “levels” of place value brings up a two important points. First, when educators use such levels—organized in a learning trajectory—to engage all children in meaningful mathematics at the right level for each—developmental appropriateness is ensured. Second, the Common Core was developed by first writing learning trajectories—at least the developmental progressions of levels of thinking. (Criticisms that the CCSS-M were “top-down,” starting with high school, e.g., Meisels, 2011, are simply incorrect.) Thus, learning trajectories are at the core of the Common Core.

Let’s take another example: arithmetic problems. Missing addend problems are a first grade standard. Some argue that tasks such as “fill in the blank: 3 + _ = 5” are cognitively out of range for children until, say, 2nd or 3rd grade. Some students may stumble if, unprepared, they are given such tasks in that form. However, most 4- to 5-year-olds in high-quality environments, when asked, “Give me 5 cubes. OK, now watch, I’m going to hide some! [Hides 2 in one hand, then shows the 3 in the other hand.] How many am I hiding?” will eagerly answer, “Two!” Format and interaction matter. So does working through research-based learning in counting and especially conceptual subitizing—quickly recognizing parts and wholes of small numbers (Clements, 1999).

The CCSS-M can help teachers with such work. Historically, most word problem types in U.S. textbooks have been simple one-step problem types. Other countries’ children are solving many types, including more complex two-step problems (Stigler, Fuson, Ham, & Kim, 1986). Further, given the opportunity, young U.S. children can solve a wide range of problems, even beyond the CCSS-M, such multiplication and division problems with remainders (Carpenter, Ansell, Franke, Fennema, & Weisbeck, 1993).


Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

One might still argue that the CCSS-M goals are inappropriate for some group of children. But this will be true of any set of standards that pose a worthwhile challenge to them. And our children deserve that challenge. Based on learning trajectories, teachers should always be working on the challenging-but-achievable levels for their class and for the individuals in it. But that does not mean we allow children starting at lower levels to stay behind others. That would relegate them to a trajectory of failure (see Vincent Costanza’s blog). Instead, we should work together to help them build up their mathematical foundations. And given this support, they do.

So, the concern of “developmental inappropriateness” is a misunderstanding. There are others.

  1. “The Common Core means that other domains, such as social-emotional development, will be de-emphasized.” The good news there is that high-quality implementations of mathematics curricula in preschools have shown not only increase in meaningful mathematics proficiencies, but also transfer to other domains, such as language and self-regulation (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2013; Julie Sarama, Clements, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2012; Julie Sarama, Lange, Clements, & Wolfe, 2012). Further, preschool curricula can successfully combine social-emotional, literacy, language, science and mathematics (e.g., Julie Sarama, Brenneman, Clements, Duke, & Hemmeter, in press)—all the while enhancing, rather than competing with, play-based approaches (Farran, Aydogan, Kang, & Lipsey, 2005). Finally, those who say that “there should be time for both learning literacy, math, and science, and for play and games”—inadvertently show their limited knowledge of early math education by repeating one of the ubiquitous false dichotomies of early education. Two of the ways to guide learning in these subject-matter domains are through games and play.
  2. “The Common Core is a federal curriculum.” Wrong on both counts. First, it was created by the states—the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers—not the U.S. government. Second, the Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum (see Dorothy Strickland’s blog). It guides what goals to aim for but not how or what curriculum to teach.
  3. “Teachers voices were not heard.” Teachers were involved all the way. Many states, such as Arizona, convened meetings of teachers to review the standards at each of three cycles of review. Also, the CCSS-M were supported and validated by such organizations as the NEA, AFT, and NCTM, as well as early childhood organizations such as the NAEYC (see Jere Confrey’s post and this joint statement publicly expressing NAEYC’s and the NAECSS’s support for the Standards,and Clements, Sarama, & DiBiase, 2004, in which leaders of NAEYC contributed to a work that was used heavily in the CCSS-M).
  4. “The Common Core emphasizes rote skills taught by direct instruction.” First, the CCSS-M does not tell how to teach. But its descriptions of goals for children could not be further from this misconception. Consider the introduction to grade 2, which states (in concert with NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points) that children “develop, discuss, and use efficient, accurate, and generalizable methods to compute sums and differences of whole numbers.” Second-graders develop and discuss strategies, then use them in problem solving.
  5. “There were no early childhood teachers or professionals involved.” As one of the contributors to the CCSS-M, I—a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who continuously works in preschools and primary-grade classrooms, with children and teachers—I can only hope these authors simply were sloppy in checking their facts.

Do we think everything is perfect? Of course not. Not even the content of the CCSS-M is (or ever will be) perfect. But only further implementation and study will give us an improved set of standards. Further, we wish that organizations would implement carefully and slowly, building up (from pre-K) and supporting all teachers and other educators in learning about, working on, and evaluating the CCSS-M. Schools that have done that report success, with teachers amazed by what their students can do (Kelleher, 2014). Appreciating what their children are learning means they not only stick with it, but they also improve every year (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2014). We wish curriculum, and especially high-stakes assessments, would be carefully piloted with extensive research on outcomes, including unanticipated outcomes, before they are accepted and more widely disseminated (Julie Sarama & Clements, 2015) (or rejected and not used). We wish more educators would realize what’s truly developmentally inappropriate is present-day kindergarten curricula that “teach” children what they already know (Engel, Claessens, & Finch, 2013).

But we do think that too many find it easier to dramatically warn of all that could go wrong working with the Common Core (“Students will be pressured!” “There are not CC curricula yet!” “The kids will fail!”). Too few take the more difficult road of building positive solutions. Let’s stop biting the finger, and look where it’s pointing.



 Carpenter, T. P., Ansell, E., Franke, M. L., Fennema, E. H., & Weisbeck, L. (1993). Models of problem solving: A study of kindergarten children’s problem-solving processes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 24, 428-441.

Clements, D. H. (1999). Subitizing: What is it? Why teach it? Teaching Children Mathematics, 5, 400-405.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2007). Effects of a preschool mathematics curriculum: Summative research on the Building Blocks project. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 38, 136-163.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental evaluation of the effects of a research-based preschool mathematics curriculum. American Educational Research Journal, 45, 443-494.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2014). Learning and teaching early math: The learning trajectories approach (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & DiBiase, A.-M. (2004). Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2013). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies: Persistence of effects in the third year. American Educational Research Journal, 50(4), 812 – 850. doi: 10.3102/0002831212469270

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2014). Sustainability of a scale-up intervention in early mathematics: Longitudinal evaluation of implementation fidelity. Early Education and Development, 26(3), 427-449. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2015.968242

Engel, M., Claessens, A., & Finch, M. A. (2013). Teaching students what they already know? The (mis)alignment between mathematics instructional content and student knowledge in kindergarten. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(2), 157–178. doi: 10.3102/0162373712461850

Farran, D. C., Aydogan, C., Kang, S. J., & Lipsey, M. (2005). Preschool classroom environments and the quantity and quality of children’s literacy and language behaviors. In D. Dickinson & S. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 257-268). New York, NY: Guilford.

Fuson, K. C., Smith, S. T., & Lo Cicero, A. (1997). Supporting Latino first graders’ ten-structured thinking in urban classrooms. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 738-760.

Fuson, K. C., Wearne, D., Hiebert, J. C., Murray, H. G., Human, P. G., Olivier, A. I., . . . Fennema, E. H. (1997). Children’s conceptual structures for multidigit numbers and methods of multidigit addition and subtraction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 130-162.

Kelleher, M. (2014). Common Core for Young Learners. Harvard Education Letter, 30 (4).

Meisels, S. J. (2011). Common Core standards pose dilemmas for early childhood. Retrieved from

Rogers, A. (2012). Steps in developing a quality whole number place value assessment for years 3-6: Unmasking the “experts”. Paper presented at the Mathetatics Education Research Group of Australasia, Singapore.

Sarama, J., Brenneman, K., Clements, D. H., Duke, N. K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (in press). Connect4Learning (C4L): The Preschool Curriculum. Lewisville, NC: Gryphon House.

Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2015). Scaling up early mathematics interventions: Transitioning with trajectories and technologies. In B. Perry, A. MacDonald & A. Gervasoni (Eds.), Mathematics and transition to school (pp. 153-169). New York, NY: Springer.

Sarama, J., Clements, D. H., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2012). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 5(2), 105-135.

Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on emerging literacy and language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 489-502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002

Stigler, J. W., Fuson, K. C., Ham, M., & Kim, M. S. (1986). An analysis of addition and subtraction word problems in American and Soviet elementary mathematics textbooks. Cognition and Instruction, 3, 153-171.




Why CCSS-M Grades K-3 is developmentally appropriate and internationally competitive

April 13, 2015

In this post, Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor, Science, Technology,  Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Department, College of Education, North Carolina State University, discusses why the Common Core State Standards for Math can be considered developmentally appropriate. A more detailed version of this analysis, including this chart and others, is available here.

1. The CCSS-M development process drew on teachers and experts in early childhood math education. 

 According to Jason Zimba, a lead CCSS-M author, feedback was obtained from state directors, elementary teachers, and national experts (Fact Sheet, Student Achievement Partners. The NCR’s 2009 report, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity was used. The National Association for the Education of Young Children in conjunction with the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in States issued a joint statement publicly expressing their support for the Standards.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

2. Standards are not meant to be read to children.

They represent professional knowledge in the field for teachers–just as in the case of medical knowledge, the Standards are not expected to be communicated verbatim to patients by doctors.

3. Standards typically state a clear target in the first sentence that describes the expectation, followed by research-based strategies for student success.

 After that, the Standards include suggestions for research-backed strategies for learning, to ensure that the students’ learning is made as conceptually rich and efficient as possible. Math is a language of connections.

Here is first grade example: “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8+6 = 8+2+4 = 10+4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13-4 = 13-3-1 = 9)…and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6+7 by creating the known equivalent 6+6+1 = 12+1 = 13).”  These strategies, from the NRC’s Adding It Up, are a toolbox for a teacher to build on children’s ideas to reach towards the development eventually applying standard algorithms.

4. The Standards are consistent with international standards.

In Informing Grades 1-6 Mathematics Standards Development, AIR took the standards from Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong, and created a composite set. The major topics in the numbers strand for all three countries follow a similar pattern, across grades, dictated by the logic of mathematics learning. In the chart below on understanding and reading whole numbers, CCSS-M is compared to this composite chart. If we claim our standards are not developmentally appropriate, then how is it that other countries achieve these outcomes? Note, these countries do not offer Kindergarten.

Table 1. Composite Standards for Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, with the Addition of the CCSS-M. Composite Standards: Numbers—Whole Numbers for Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea (AIR, p. 8)

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.06.20 AM


Anticipating quality for all children

September 10, 2014

I remember the anticipation each fall as school was about to begin. So much was going on in my mind. Who was going to be in my class? What kind of year was it going to be? What were we going to learn? I was excited. I was nervous. These memories are not from when I was four or five, but rather when I was a teacher in the classroom. Twenty years ago this fall I began my tenure as an early childhood teacher. Although I no longer teach in the classroom, I still feel this excitement through my children’s eyes and through the work I do with teachers and leaders in the field.

I see young children filled with excitement and anticipation around the towns hopping on buses, jumping into cars, and lacing up their shoes to walk to school. So, it is this time of year that I pause to reflect on what young children deserve in their educational lives to maintain this excitement, and to increase their success both now in their early education career and later, in their learning down the road.

Yearbook set 6

  • All young children should have access to a high-quality preschool experience. Roughly 75 percent of all young children attend preschool at age four and half of these children attend preschool at age three. Unfortunately, most programs are not of high quality. Only 18 percent of low-income children and 29 percent of high-income children are enrolled in good pre-K.
  • All young children should be taught by qualified teachers who are well-trained, dedicated and caring. These teachers should know the science of teaching and understand the art of educating young children. States vary in teacher preparation requirements. These include teacher degree, preparation specifically in early childhood, and the in-service support provided.
  • All children should feel safe and healthy at school. Early care and education can improve children’s health both directly in the short-term and indirectly through long-term effects of education on health, health-related behavior, and access to health care.
  • All children should have access to materials and opportunities to advance their learning. This learning should be across domains, including language and literacy, science and math, and social studies. Children should also have ample opportunities to persist through difficult tasks, develop social problem-solving skills and self-regulation with support from an adult, and to be curious and solve problems.
  • All children should engage in play and hands-on meaningful learning. This provides children opportunities to learn, demonstrate their skills and development, and apply their learning flexibly to new and unique situations in a safe environment. Children often exhibit higher level skills in language and math through their play than in other didactic learning situations.
  • All children deserve individualized attention from teachers who know what the children know and understand how to bring their learning to the next level. Formative assessment is a process that teachers employ to collect and use assessment information to tailor instruction to the individual needs of children. Collecting information from multiple sources and analyzing it in light of children’s individual learning needs can support teaching whereby all children learn and develop.
  • All children should feel welcomed and valued in classrooms. Welcoming all children and valuing their home language and culture is an important part of early schooling. Moving forward, a concerted effort must go into educating and hiring bilingual staff with special attention to enhancing practices supportive of dual language learners.

I wish you a wonderful year and thank you as you continue to support early education so that all children have multiple opportunities to succeed.

-Shannon Riley-Ayers, NIEER/CEELO Assistant Research Professor

Play and Mathematics: An Equation that Works

March 14, 2014

In honor of “Pi Day,” a day to celebrate math concepts, named for the mathematical symbol pi (3.14 . . .), NIEER presents a guest blog post on the importance of play-based learning in mathematics from Deborah Stipek, Stanford University Professor. For a full review of our forum on play-based learning, please click here.

Often, the resistance to teaching by advocates of play is based on an image of “instruction” as drill-and-kill activities which, in addition to being boring, do not help children develop deep understanding of discipline-based knowledge and skills (although they may produce better performance on traditional tests of a limited set of skills). Because this image comes to many preschool teachers’ minds when you mention teaching, they resist. But basic skill drills are not the only alternative to play. Teachers who resist instruction might change their minds if they had an image of the teaching strategies that most experts advocate.

A Pi Day Pie, from Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker :

A Pi Day Pie, from Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker :

Consider math, for example. The field of early math teaching has evolved to provide many examples of research-based instruction that should please people who advocate play for young children. Most experts now endorse purposeful instruction that supports the development of deep mathematical understandings and that children enjoy—what I call “playful learning.”

But effective (and playful) math, as well as effective literacy teaching, requires considerable skill – more than is needed to hand out ditto sheets. Teachers need to understand math themselves, and they need to know how to assess children’s understandings in different domains of math, and determine appropriate activities and scaffolding to bring them to the next level. The same is true for literacy. Even the most structured curriculum depends on teachers’ judgment and skill for effective implementation. And while teachers engage with children in math or literacy learning, they need to provide an emotionally secure social context and support the development of self-regulation and social skills.

Most preschool teachers in the US do not get an opportunity to develop these skills. Even teachers who have bachelor’s degrees—the current gold standard—do not necessarily have any relevant training in pedagogy. The focus in preparing preschool teachers has traditionally been on child development, which to be sure is relevant, but does not prepare a new teacher to help children develop an understanding of the many facets of early mathematics or develop early literacy skills. Until we invest in pedagogical training that prepares preschool teachers to provide children with playful, but also purposeful and effective, learning opportunities, the debate about play will continue.

Reflections on Play: A Resource Guide

March 7, 2014

NIEER is concluding a two-week blog forum on the importance of play in early childhood education. As we stated in our kick-off postboy playing with blocks 2

“The early childhood field has a history of conflict over means and goals that periodically erupts into public debates about the role of play versus academics and construction versus instruction. Concerns about whether preschool and kindergarten have become too stressful and regimented are met head on with concerns that they are academically weak and fail to cognitively challenge children. These conflicts have been intensified by increased demands for assessment and Common Core State Standards driving curriculum in the early grades.” 

In the last two weeks, we’ve considered play from a number of different perspectives from experts in the field, looking both at what the research says about play’s importance in the classroom, and at how play-based learning can be used on the ground. These posts focus on key issues in the field and serve as valuable resources as parents, teachers, and policymakers strive to ensure play has its place in pre-K:

What does play looking like in an early childhood setting? How can meaningful learning be fostered without forcing out room for creativity, imagination, and fun?

In addition to the posts we’ve featured, NIEER has compiled a list of resources–a recommended reading list–to help keep the conversation going:

Are there others you think provide a great perspective on the importance of play? Please share links and recommendations in the comments!

Thanks for joining us in this important discussion.


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