In a recent study from Vanderbilt University by Durkin et al. (2022), 2,990 children from families with limited resources applied to preschool programs across Tennessee and were randomly assigned either to a waitlist or admission. Data from sixth-grade records indicated that children randomly assigned to preschools had lower state achievement test scores in the third through sixth grades than children in the control group. In a February 10, 2022, National Public Radio segment, one of the study’s authors asks, “Why do we put so much pressure on our pre-K program?” Concluding, “We might actually get better results from simply letting little children play.”
Play has been at the cornerstone of the HighScope approach for over 50 years. HighScope’s Perry Preschool Study first established the lasting human and financial value of early childhood education. The landmark longitudinal study, launched in 1962, celebrates its 60th year of following 123 Black children born into poverty and placed at high risk of school failure (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1990). This comprehensive study resulted in HighScope’s active learning approach to early childhood education, putting play at the center of engaging curriculum content, child and program assessment tools, intentional teaching methods, and professional learning to support the development of young children worldwide.
Whole-child development is the foundation for all active participatory learning and play. Supporting the dynamic and ever-changing process of early development dictates that caregivers, parents, and teachers provide nurturing, predictable, and safe environments as well as consistent daily routines. Supporting very young children’s play in this way provides the foundation for optimal early development and learning, self-regulation skills, and social-emotional development — the essence of whole-child development and a “roadmap” for all later learning. Young children’s development is also extended through a process called Active Learning, which encompasses Adult-Child Interaction, Learning Environment, Schedules and Routines, Observation, and Assessment. In other words, “play” is the language of learning for young children.
HighScope continues to deliver on its research. In longitudinal research examining the effects of high-quality preschool experiences on later life outcomes, Garcia et al., (2021) found that Perry Preschool participants experienced improved life outcomes well into middle age. Their research indicates that high-quality preschool experiences promote social mobility later in life for children experiencing poverty, countering the argument that limited measurement of skills at ages six and ten can accurately predict long-term effects. Future studies about the effects of preschool on children’s academic and life success should include an assessment of classroom quality as the key to lasting positive results.
The HighScope approach is used in early childhood education programs across the United States and around the world given its potential to adapt to many children, in many contexts, from many cultures. For over 50 years, HighScope has demonstrated high-quality early learning and created early childhood resources for teachers, young children, and families. In the interest of young children worldwide, our goal is to continue this work for the next 50 years and beyond.
Durkin, K., Lipsey, M. W., Farran, D. C., & Wiesen, S. E. (2022). Effects of a statewide pre-kindergarten program on children’s achievement and behavior through sixth grade. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication.
Garcia, J.L., Heckman, J.J., and Ronda, V. (2021). Boosting intergenerational mobility: The lasting effects of early childhood education on skills and social mobility. Center for the Economics Of Human Development, The University of Chicago.
Nelson, C.A. (2000). In brief: The science of early childhood development. Center on the Developing Child. Harvard University.
Schweinhart, L.J. & Weikart, D.P. (1990). The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study, prevention in human services. 7(1), 109–132, doi:10.1300/J293v07n01_06