February 4, 2011
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Make-believe play key to success of early childhood program
Tools of the Mind is being studied by educational researchers, neuroscientists and economists.
More than 30,000 children nationwide have benefitted from Tools of the Mind, an early childhood program established at Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1993.
The research-based program builds a strong foundation for school success in preschool and kindergarten children by promoting their intentional and self-regulated learning, often referred to as executive function.
A key part of the program is a common childhood activity that has been overshadowed by the technology age, according to Deborah Leong, emeritus professor of psychology and co-founder of the program along with Elena Bodrova, who is currently a senior researcher at McRel.
"I used to daydream,” she says. “They don’t. Even in the car, children are occupied watching videos instead of using the unoccupied time to daydream and pretend.”
Tools has been and continues to be studied from multiple perspectives. Educational researchers are analyzing whether it helps close the achievement gap for at-risk students. Neuroscientists are monitoring students’ stress levels from cortisone swabs of students’ cheeks, and economists are seeking to determine if executive function skills affect long-term earnings. See list of studies here.
Not surprisingly, Tools has become an in-demand leader in its field.
Leong will attend an invitation-only workshop, called “Frontiers of Innovation,” at Harvard University on May 3-5. It is being held in an effort to engage an initial cadre of colleagues in the design and implementation of a new venture, the Early Childhood Innovation Partnership.
Her Nov. 30, 2010 invitation from Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, who also serves as director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, provides a glimpse of how Tools is viewed by practitioners. In the invitation, Shonkoff wrote, “Central to the success of this effort will be our ability to build a virtual community of creative thinkers and doers who will join us in a shared mission to create a new era in early childhood policy and practice…As a leader in the field, you are being invited because of your distinctive voice, experience, and creative thinking.”
In late January, Leong was in Boston being taped for a video to run on the partnership’s website to help promote the event.
The recent recognitions speak to the quality of the Tools program, which will soon debut internationally in Chile, thanks to sponsorship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Leong visited the country in 2010, and this March, NIH representatives will visit Jefferson County School District preschool classrooms to observe the program in action.
To support Tools’ teacher professional development component, the program began piloting an iPad application in classrooms in September 2010. "It worked well beyond our wildest dreams,” said Leong. “The coach can show the teacher a video of the children’s behavior on the iPad right after the activity for immediate feedback.” The College donated the iPads.
Housed for five years at Metro State’s Extended Campus Programs, Tools is now back in the Department of Psychology. Leong is looking forward to having “closer ties with the faculty,” and more opportunities for research projects.
Learn more about the history of Tools of the Mind.