Research continuously shows that the brain develops at an astonishing rate during a child’s early years, and is at its highest levels of plasticity than at any other point in our lifetime. As a consequence, during this period, children are especially sensitive to external stimuli, such as the types of interactions they have with their caregivers. Thus, the early years are a time of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor development. But, with age, these learning capacities slow down and the amount of effort it takes to learn new skills increases.
Source: Levitt C.A. (2009), From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children And Families, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
The Study will produce benefits for children, family, ECEC centres and schools, as well as for countries as a whole.
Firstly, and most importantly, it will benefit children by shedding light on the factors that foster and hinder their development that could then be used to create environments better suited to children's needs. The Study will also bring about important analytical information about differences in skills between children of different socio-economic backgrounds, about factors that drive these differences and the ways to mitigate these and promote equity and equality of opportunities at this early age.
Parents will be able to learn about the types of home learning activities that are most conducive to child development. Early childhood education centres will learn about the range and distribution of children’s skill levels and the positive impacts ECEC can have on these. Schools will be able to make more informed decisions about the curricula and pedagogical practices likely to be needed based on information from the Study. Researchers in the field of early education will have valid and comparable information on children’s characteristics obtained from a range of sources (direct and indirect assessment, observation) accompanied by a broad scope of contextual variables that will be a valuable source of empirical information on a wide range of topics.
Policy makers will be able to see a snapshot of children’s skills as well as the settings and practices that support and hinder these skills. This would give them the opportunity to design better policies aimed at promoting those factors in home and early childhood education environments that are found to be related with better learning outcomes. In addition, countries will also be able to compare findings in order to learn from each other and share best practices, while taking into account specificities of their local cultural and institutional contexts.
There is consensus among experts that early learning represents a holistic concept that involves developing cognitive and social-emotional skills that are inter-related and mutually reinforcing. Therefore, The Early Learning and Child Well-being Study takes a comprehensive approach to studying a broad scope of developmental domains that are widely recognised as key early learning and development skills. Two of these domains – emergent literacy and numeracy skills - are predominately cognitive skills. One assessed domain consists of a wide range social and emotional skills, such as empathy and trust. Finally, mental self-regulation is another assessed domain of children’s skills that represents a combination of metacognitive, cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Taken together, the assessed skills are diverse in character and in scope, are relevant in different situations and for different goals. Notwithstanding the inevitable fact that these skills are a selection of a much broader pool of children’s emerging skillsets, they represent a balanced set of cognitive and social and emotional skills that are found to be of special relevance for children’s lives and long-term wellbeing.
The well-being of participating children is of paramount importance and all necessary steps will be taken to ensure this. In particular, once parental consent is obtained, assessment material will be delivered by trained administrators, in one-to-one situations, in a familiar and controlled environment of the child’s centre or school. Skilled, trained administrators will ensure children feel comfortable and safe. Children will be able to stop and withdraw from the assessment at any time.
The activities the children engage in are stories and games. These are presented in tablets and are simple and fun. Even children with no previous experience with tablets have no problems in understanding and following the procedures. Initial feedback from children about assessment material is overwhelmingly positive with children being engaged and animated both by the content of the stories and games as well as by the touchscreen functionality of the tablets.
Furthermore, in order to ensure consistent feedback from children about the material, children will be asked if they liked the activities, after each of the four domains. These debriefing sessions will be used to ensure children’s well-being during the process and also to provide valuable feedback about the material and procedures. Children will also be asked about their own perspective on their favourite learning activities.
Meet Mia and Tom, the main characters of the stories and games presented to children.
The use of tablets by children for limited periods of time is entirely suitable for the age group covered by this Study. Early in the development of the Study, the use of of tablets was tested with a wide range of children, including those who had not previously used a tablet or similar device.
The stories and games the children in the Study engage with on the tablet are fun and age-appropriate. The activities are intuitive and easy for children to navigate. Feedback from children in the Study has been overwhelmingly positive, on both the stories and games and on the touch screen functionality of the tablets.
The Study is not an assessment of school readiness. Although the information from the Study will be useful for schools to better understand early learners’ needs, the Study is focused on children’s longer-term outcomes in a wide scope of life domains. For example, this is the reason reading and writing skills are not assessed and why a broad range of self-regulation and socio-emotional skills are included in the Study. This is also why the stories and games in which children engage have little resemblance with usual school material.
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