Dr. John D. Bransford holds the Shauna C. Larson Endowed Chair in Learning Sciences at the University of Washington College of Education. He is also founding director of The LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments) Centre, which develops and tests principles about the social foundations of human learning from infancy to adulthood. Dr. Bransford has also served as co-chair of several National Academy of Science Committees, which have published influential books including How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (2005), How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (1999, 2000), and How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (1999).
Dr. Ann L. Brown spent most of her career researching how children learn, and imparting strategies to increase learning. Based on her personal background – she was dyslexic and didn’t learn to read until the age of 13 – Dr. Brown had a special interest in understanding learning disabilities. Among her most influential findings was that learning difficulties often stem from a lack of ability to use metacognitive strategies, such as summarizing. She was also considered an educational progressive, developing a teaching concept based on small communities of learners. As part of her position as a member of the National Academy of Science Committees, she co-authored the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Dr. Brown also served as president of the American Educational Research Association. She died in 1999 at the age of 56.
Dr. Stuart Brown believes play is the most important work humans can do. For young children, it’s especially vital for their growth and development. A medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher, Dr. Brown is also the founder of the National Institute for Play, based in Carmel Valley, California. Among the Institute’s goals are to transform education through the adoption of play-based philosophies in schools. Their work is based on scientific research that shows the many benefits of play.
Dr. Sylvia Chard is a Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Alberta. Her areas of research include professional development for teachers and curriculum change at the elementary school level. Dr. Chard manages The Project Approach, an interactive site revolving around project-based learning. It encourages children to seek an in-depth understanding of the world around them, and allows the opportunity for them to build their own understanding, while teachers guide the process. It’s believed students learn best when they have positive self-esteem and a sense of purpose to their learning. They’re also successful when they learn through a combination of first-hand observations, hands-on experience, systematic instruction, and personal reflection.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige is an early childhood education professor and founder of Lesley University’s Center for Peaceable Schools, in Cambridge, MA. She has written and spoken extensively about the impact of violence, especially in the media, on children’s lives and social development. She believes three things are essential for a child’s healthy development: Time and space for creative play, a feeling of security, and strong, meaningful relationships with adults and other children. She also believes play and hands-on interactions are critical in order for genuine learning to occur.
Dr. Rodney R. Cocking is considered one of the first scholars to seriously consider digital media’s impact on children’s learning. His work revolved around how children symbolically represent media and his belief that media research should inform educational issues. He was the author of several books, and as a member of the National Academy of Science Committees, he co-authored the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Dr. Cocking was also involved in the development of The Children’s Digital Media Center at the National Science Foundation. It's considered a tribute to his scientific legacy. Dr. Cocking was murdered in 2002 at the age of 59.
Dr. Adele Diamond is a leading expert in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. She holds a Research Chair position at the University of British Columbia, and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. For decades, Dr. Diamond has studied the development of the cognitive functions of the brain, starting in infancy and extending throughout adulthood. Her research has shown that cognitive control abilities, such as selective attention and self-regulation, can be improved through training and practice. She has been described as taking a ‘yes you can’ approach to learning. By teaching a concept in new ways, or by posing questions differently, she believes a child who is known to have learning difficulties, can succeed.
Sharon’s experience as a teacher includes kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school and post secondary. Her research interests include the ways in which K-12 educational structures, curriculum, learning and leading need to be reinvented for a knowledge/learning society. She has specific interests in: (i) the promotion of deep intellectual engagement, (ii) the ability to create learning environments that require sustained work with ideas and (iii) the pervasiveness of networked digital technologies that open up new ways of thinking, ways of working and tools for working and living in the world.
As an extension of her academic research interests, Dr. Friesen has co-authored three books. She has also received numerous awards for her research and teaching practice.
Dr. Robbin Gibb is based out of the University of Lethbridge’s Department of Neuroscience. She is an associate professor and the first PhD graduate from the university's Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience. The focus of Dr. Gibb's research is to determine how early experience influences brain development and overall physical and behavioural outcomes, and what effect those changes have on subsequent experience. Dr. Gibb has made several presentations to parent education groups, judicial organizations, and international audiences.
Dr. Jane Hewes is a longtime advocate of children’s rights and high quality, community-based early learning programs. She has worked as a play specialist, consultant, and presently, is chair of the Early Learning and Child Care program at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. Dr. Hewes’ field of academic study is focused on children’s play, which was the topic of her graduate work. Dr. Hewes is a member of several boards, including the International Play Association, the Services Committee of the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, and the Canadian Child Care Federation. She also led the evaluation team for the pilot of the Alberta Child Care Accreditation model, which was a first in Canada.
Dr. Hewes’ publications include Let the Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning, Play and Early Learning: A Call for Dialogue, and Back to Basics: The Child’s Right to Play.
Dr. Bryan Kolb is a psychology professor and founding researcher with the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, based out of the University of Lethbridge. He’s the author of five books, including two textbooks on subjects ranging from neuropsychology to the relationship between the brain and human behaviour. Dr. Kolb is considered one of the world’s most influential neuroscientists, and was the first to show how the growth of new brain cells can restore psychological and behavioural function. In addition to his research, Dr. Kolb is also a theme leader within the Canadian Stroke Network and a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research's program on Experience Based Brain Development.
Dr. Anna Kirova is an elementary education professor at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include the social-emotional intelligence of young children, early mathematical thinking, the use of technology. She also studies peer relationships and loneliness experienced by immigrant children. While attending the University of Sofia-Bulgaria, Dr. Kirova’s doctoral dissertation on the role of toys in the development of a child’s social skills landed her a position with the Toy Institute in Bulgaria. There, she worked with designers and engineers, designing toys for children up to 12 years of age. Upon her family’s arrival in Canada, Dr. Kirova experienced what would become another research direction – the cultural isolation and loneliness experienced by young immigrant children. Inspired by what her young son was going through, Dr. Kirova embarked on a second dissertation at the University of Alberta.
Dr. Robert J. Marzano is known internationally for his research in classroom strategies and design. He is the author of more than 30 books and 150 articles on topics ranging from instruction and assessment, writing and implementing standards, cognition, effective leadership, and school intervention. He is also co-founder and CEO of the Colorado, USA-based Marzano Research Laboratory, which is a joint venture with the Solution Tree, a educational professional development company. The laboratory develops educational tools for teachers and principals.
Dr. Janet N. Mort is an author and former school principal and Superintendent of the Saanich School District in British Columbia. She led the implementation of the province’s 10-year plan for educational reform, and is a researcher at the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), at the University of British Columbia. She believes inquiry-based learning is a combination of different skills that teachers use. It relies on the emotional intelligence of children, where the learning experience is scaffolded, as is the case in Vygotsky’s theories. A child is taken to the edge of their ability and given an extra little nudge through the use of questioning from the teacher – for example, a teacher would ask a child or group of children to think of a different way to use a certain item, or to encourage them to think of what would happen if a play scenario was altered in some way. This encourages children to problem solve and help them be responsible for their own learning. This is especially valuable today. When young children are encouraged to explore their world and ask questions, they’re becoming well prepared for a world that is literally at their fingertips.
Vivian Gussin Paley is one of the pioneers behind play-based teaching and learning. She spent more than 40 years as a preschool teacher, much of it spent at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools. Her storytelling-based curriculum has been recognized for its positive impact on early literacy skills. She’s also known for using a tape recorder in her classroom, which she used to examine how individual children are progressing in all aspects of their development. Vivian Gussin Paley is the author of more than ten books illustrating what goes on in an early learning classroom.
Dr. Sergio Pellis Based out of the University of Lethbridge, neuroscience researcher and professor Sergio Pellis examines the relationship between a child’s brain and behavior during development. Specifically, he looks at the role peer to peer play has in the development of social competence. Using various species, such as laboratory rodents and apes, he has shown rough and tumble play is made up of different subcomponents, such as attack and defence. There are also differences in how such play is modified amongst species and age. Dr. Pellis also believes play may be either crucial for the development of a child’s neurobehavioural systems, or as a way to monitor how such systems work.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist known for his studies in determining how knowledge grows in children. He placed great importance on early education. Based upon the observation of children of all ages, including his own daughters and son, Piaget concluded even infants have certain skills when it comes to controlling objects in their environment. They use these skills and adapt them to new situations (such as grabbing objects, putting them into the mouth, and discovering different objects have different tastes, sounds and smells). Piaget also came up with defined stages of cognitive development, which is still referred to today. At the time of his work, Piaget’s was seen as a significant move away from the so-called “blank slate” approach – that children are born knowing very little, until life experience gradually imprints upon, and contributes to their body of knowledge.
Dr. Lloyd Rieber Based out of the University of Georgia, Lloyd Rieber is a professor of learning, design and technology. As a researcher, he’s found a person’s interest in academic learning rarely compares to the commitment that characterizes their learning outside of school, which is related to personal interest. Rieber is especially interested in the question of why this kind of learning is so rare in schools. His goal is to replicate this kind of ferocity for learning in the classroom. While working as an elementary school teacher early in his career, Rieber became interested in how computer technology provides learners with a highly interactive and visual learning environment. Teaching young children, he has said, is all about flexibility and adaptability. It’s also a great place for learning about instructional technology.
Hailed in 1991 by Newsweek Magazine as an exemplary model of early childhood education, The Reggio Emilia Approach is still highly regarded today. Its roots are in the Italian town of the same name, where at least 10 percent of its budget is devoted to early childhood education.
Many characteristics of this educational approach are rooted in Italian culture, from the open design of schools that facilitates interaction, to the value placed on collaboration between children, parents and teachers. The classroom is extended into the community – for example, in parks, hospitals, and art galleries. Parents and staff work together to plan and implement learning activities. Unlike most classrooms in North America, where teachers can be isolated in solitary classrooms that become the turf of the individual teacher, the Reggio Emilia approach is more collaborative – understanding and experiences are created through interaction and close relationships with peers, mentors, materials and ideas.
Reggio Emilia classrooms are known for its attention to detail. They are deliberately beautiful spaces, full of natural and created objects. Each area is a delight to the eye. Reggio educators also view children as strong, intelligent, creative, and most importantly, capable of the learning that takes place. The job of the teacher is to support this, and to challenge and empower children to use their natural curiosity to discover themselves and the world around them. An important role of the teacher lies in that of a learner alongside the children. The teacher will help children make decisions about the direction of study, and how what is learned will be illustrated and presented.
As a result of the Reggio Emilia approach, high levels of expression are reached by children in many forms of symbolic representation, particularly in the graphic arts. The emphasis on the use of language is also apparent in these classrooms, a direct result of the collaborative environment.
As a school counselor in 1950s Michigan, David Weikart was troubled by the lack of options for failing students. Many of these students were also economically disadvantaged. The HighScope curriculum was initiated at the preschool level by Dr. Weikart more than 40 years ago and thanks to a research study that began with the program’s inception, many benefits have been revealed. Students who were taught in this environment were found as adults to have adapted better to societal norms. They also attained a higher level of education and working income than students who were placed in the control group.
Active learning forms the basis for the HighScope approach to learning. It’s believed children learn best through direct experiences with people, materials, events and ideas, as opposed to direct teaching or sequenced exercises. Children can then create their own knowledge within the frame of their own culture and life experience. The HighScope program has five key experiences for students – creative representation, language and literacy, initiative and social relations, movement and music, and logical reasoning.
Lev Vygotsky and the Tools of the Mind Approach
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky lived during the Russian Revolution. His primary work is known within his Social Development Theory. He believed social interaction plays an essential role in cognitive development. He focused on the connections between people and the cultural context in which they interacted. Vytgotsky also believed humans use tools such as speech and writing to mediate their social environment. For children, these tools are developed solely to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills. Students should also take an active role in their learning, and teachers should act as collaborators to facilitate meaning. In this way, learning becomes a mutual experience between student and teacher.
The Tools of the Mind approach to learning is based on Vygotsky’s insights into executive functioning and its development. It promotes a system of activities supporting executive functioning skills, which is a foundation to learning. Activities include using self-regulatory private speech, which means having the child say out loud what they are doing, and using aides to facilitate memory and attention. These activities are woven into the teaching of academic skills. The promotion of mature, dramatic play is also important. For Vygotsky, engaging in such play represents the primary way children develop executive functioning skills. In the Tools curriculum, children are taught to think about their play scenario ahead of time – to name what role they’ll play, the role other children will play, and what happens next. A teacher can then approach children as they play, and prompt a discussion of what will happen next. The result of all this is the children engage in Vygotsky’s definition of private speech (thinking as they are talking). Role-playing also allows children to internalize rules and expectations of social behavior, and honour the so-called rules of play they had agreed upon verbally before the play scenario began. In this way, they are exercising self-regulation. In short, the type of play in the Tools approach requires teachers to help children plan, and stay true to their plans in a way that emphasizes inhibitory control and working memory, while the play scenario evolves and becomes more creative and complex. They are scaffolding their student’s learning, from being regulated by others, to engaging in “shared” regulation, to eventually, becoming masters of their own behavior.
Groups and Organizations:
The Alliance for Childhood is a non-profit partnership of educators and health professionals who promote and believe in the healthy development of children. The College Park, MD-based organization also advocates that play initiated and directed by children should be an integral part of their lives. The Alliance for Childhood works with like-minded groups and individuals to restore play in the classroom and at home.
Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience is based out of the University of Lethbridge, and is a world-renowned facility housing 16 principal investigators and one private industrial partner. Research at the centre revolves around the neural mechanisms of learning, brain plasticity, brain development, and recovery of function.
Early childhood research from Harvard University’s schools and hospitals are featured on this site. The Center on the Developing Child was founded in 2006 on the belief children will reach their full potential if they have positive experiences early in life. A vast array of scientific research supports this belief, and the Center hopes to influence policymakers to recognize and implement their findings. All articles within the site are written with the goal of closing the gap between what experts know about the science of early childhood, and what the public understands and does about it.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Fraser Mustard worked as a medical researcher at Cambridge and McMaster universities. Thirty years later, his focus evolved towards linking experts in all fields, and he launched the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. This “institute without walls’ allowed for interdisciplinary teams from across Canada and around the world to explore a variety of scientific and social challenges.
Dr. Mustard also created the Founder’s Network, which also brings together talented individuals from different areas of study to tackle problems in the fields of science and technology, economic issues and early childhood development.
This Canadian-based resource contains articles and information on all topics concerning early childhood development. It was developed in 2007 with a grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Child Development experts, service providers and other organizations contribute regularly to the site.