Play-based curriculum benefits young children and teachers

Findings from a randomised controlled trial of Tools of the Mind (Tools) suggest that the programme improves kindergarten (Year 1) pupils’ academic outcomes in reading and writing, enhances children’s joy in learning and teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and reduces teacher burnout.

The Tools programme is a play-based preschool and kindergarten curriculum that emphasises self-control, language and literacy skills. The study, published in the journal PLoS One, analysed the effectiveness of Tools on kindergarten teachers and 351 children (mean age 5.2 years at entry) with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in 18 public schools in Canada. Schools were paired with closely matched schools and then randomised to either the intervention group or control group. Teachers in the intervention group received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began, along with funds for resources. Control group teachers were offered the same amount of training hours and funds for whatever training and resource materials they wanted.

The results showed that pupils in the Tools group made greater improvements than pupils in the control group on standardised tests for reading and writing. By May, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 (Year 2) level or better. Similarly, three times as many children in Tools classes than in control classes were able to write a full sentence that they composed themselves. Tools teachers also reported that their pupils could continue to work unsupervised for two and a half times longer than control teachers estimated for their pupils, and that 100% could get back to work right away after breaks, compared to 50% of control children.

The Tools programme also had a positive impact on how teachers felt about teaching. More than three-quarters of Tools teachers, but none of the control teachers, reported in May that they were still enthusiastic about teaching.

Source: Randomized control trial of Tools of the Mind: Marked benefits to kindergarten children and their teachers (September 2019), PLoS One

Interventions for four-year-olds help three-year-olds, too

A new report from MDRC presents the findings for three-year-old children from the Head Start CARES demonstration. This was a large randomised controlled trial in more than 100 Head Start centres across the US. It tested the effects of three different approaches for improving children’s social-emotional competencies: The Incredible Years, PATHS, and Tools of the Mind – Play. The main trial looked at the impact on four-year-old children and this further analysis examines the impact on three-year-olds who were in the same classes.

The results show:

  • Overall, the approaches increased teachers’ social-emotional instruction, but did not affect other aspects of practice or classroom climate in mixed-age classes. The approaches also improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • The Incredible Years did not produce a statistically significant improvement in teachers’ use of classroom and behaviour-management strategies, but it improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • PATHS improved teachers’ social-emotional instruction and Tools of the Mind – Play improved scaffolding of children’s play. However, there was little evidence that the approaches improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social-emotional outcomes.

The findings suggest that it is possible for the benefits of social-emotional interventions to extend to three-year-olds, even when the interventions are designed primarily for four-year-olds. In this study, these benefits were driven primarily by The Incredible Years.

Source: Impacts of Social-Emotional Curricula on Three-Year-Olds: Exploratory Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.