The Science of Early Learning summarizes current developmental cognitive research on agency development, literacy, and numeracy in young children, birth through age eight. The report was developed by Deans for Impact in collaboration with Dylan Kane and Callie Lowenstein, practicing teachers; Rachel Robertson of Bright Horizons; Dr. Daniel Ansari of Western University; Dr. Stephanie Carlson of the University of Minnesota and Reflection Sciences, Inc.; and Dr. Anne Castles of Macquarie University.

Across the three domains, writers identify several central questions about how children learn and how we, as educators, parents, caregivers, and anyone else involved in nurturing learning in young children, can connect this science to real-world applications for teaching and education inside and outside of the classroom.

Agency Development

The third and final domain of the report emphasizes the importance of agency development in answering questions about how children:

  1. Develop a sense of self
  2. Begin to respect others
  3. Self-regulate their behaviors
  4. Develop independence

The main principles of learning science addressed in this section include: sensitive and emotionally-responsive caregiving, secure attachments, development of a secure sense of self, emotion recognition and regulation, empathy, perspective-taking, development of executive function skills, and independence (autonomy) development.

Links to Practice:
When children engage in pretend and imaginary play, they are practicing key executive function skills, such as considering another character’s abilities and emotions, taking steps back in order to think about dilemmas from a different or broader perspective, reflecting on choices in how to respond to situations, and social problem-solving. Supporting pretend in the classroom can provide children with the opportunity to practice skills they can use in future real-world scenarios.

Literacy Development

In this section, writers focus on the skills needed for reading and writing. Questions addressed include, how young children:

  1. Learn the meaning of their ABC’s
  2. Become fluent readers
  3. Begin to understand what they read
  4. Express their ideas and thoughts in writing

This section of the report concentrates on a number of principles of learning science: developing phonemic and morphological awareness, understanding how spoken sounds link to individual letters, spelling, word recognition, developing vocabulary and conceptual understanding of story and text structures, handwriting or transcription fluency, and storytelling.

Links to Practice:
LAs children develop a more advanced understanding of letters, sounds, and words, use story time to start introducing connections between words and images. While reading aloud, point to the text, word-by-word, and encourage children to help you read by recognizing words that are repeated throughout the story.

Numeracy Development

Learning numbers and developing an understanding of numerical concepts and constructs is an important skill for young children as they enter and progress through school. This section of the report explores question about how young children:

  1. Learn to count
  2. Develop abstract knowledge of mathematical concepts
  3. Learn properties and manipulation of numbers
  4. Effectively learn mathematics in different environments

There are several principles of learning science that are centered on mathematics, including: reciting the count sequence (1, 2, 3…), the cardinality principle, numerical symbols, abstract mathematical concepts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.), number lines, math anxiety, and more.

Links to Practice:
Educators should explicitly show students different representations of the same number: for instance, the Arabic numeral 3; the word “three”; a set of three identical objects; and a set of three different but related objects, such as three different pieces of fruit. Linking these representations helps children to apply them in new contexts in the future.

Agency Development, Literacy, & Numeracy in Young Children

When it comes to early development and learning, existing research stresses the importance of numeracy, literacy, and agency development in early childhood. The Science of Early Learning report covers these domains in order to best understand learning. Writers of this report hope that it can be used as a launching pad from which educators, parents, caregivers, etc. can better comprehend, approach, tackle, and connect principles of learning science to practical solutions for the classroom.

Read the full report here: Deans for Impact (2019). The Science of Early Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact.