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A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum (2024)

Chapter: 3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development

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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 62
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 63
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 64
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 65
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 66
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 67
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 69
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 70
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 71
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 72
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 73
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 74
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 75
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 76
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 77
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 78
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 79
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 80
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 81
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 82
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 83
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 84
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 85
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 86
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 87
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 88
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 89
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 90
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 91
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 92
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 93
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 94
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
×
Page 95
Suggested Citation:"3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Page 96

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THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-1 3 The Science of Early Learning and Brain Development The neurobiology of learning and the powerful influences of the early environment on brain development are central considerations in planning effective preschool curriculum. The principle that there are sensitive periods during early childhood when the capacity for learning is enhanced has been well established in specific domains (language, visual) and is the focus of ongoing investigation in cognitive, social, and emotional domains (Werker & Hensch 2020; Woodard & Pollack, 2020). Broadly, the existence of sensitive periods and related high neuroplasticity during the early years of life represent a window of opportunity for enhancing early learning, as specific skills and abilities are known to be absorbed or learned more readily during these periods. In turn, because learning is a cumulative process, enhanced early learning can lead to long-term learning benefits. In contrast, when opportunities for environmental stimulation and expected experiential inputs are missed, the early years can be a period of unique vulnerability and can lead to learning challenges at later developmental periods. Moreover, children’s early learning depends on strong starting points as well as the experiences children have in their environments. Across cultures, infant studies show evidence of strong initial states—termed “core knowledge.” Studies indicate that core knowledge is universal across disparate cultures (e.g., Spelke, 2022; Spelke & Kinzler, 2007). Core knowledge domains are evolutionarily ancient, are shared with other species, and have continuity across the human lifespan. They include knowledge about objects and their physical actions, such as their continuity and their contact constraints (Aguiar & Baillargeon, 1999; Leslie & Keeble, 1987; Spelke 1990); knowledge about agents and their goal-directed actions and intentions (Spelke, Woodward, & Phillips, 1995; Gergeley Stavans & Csibra, 2023, Woodward, 2009); knowledge about number that is approximate for all but the smallest sets (Carey, 2004; Carey & Barner, 2019; deHaene, 1997); knowledge about geometry, which allows infants and young children to navigate based on the geometry of spaces and to represent shapes based on angle and side length (Dehaene et al., 2006; Izard & Spelke, 2009; Cheng & Newcombe, 2005; Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2003); and core social cognition, which enables babies to represent others with whom they interact and their social group (Kinzler et al.,2007; Kinzler & Spelke, 2011; Spelke, 2022). Importantly, core knowledge systems are malleable, and children’s initial states change depending on their experiences. For example, as early as 3 months of age, infants show an own- race preference for faces, but this is based on their exposures and is not seen in infants who grow up in environments where they are exposed to other races (Bar-Haim et al., 2006; Kinzler & Spelke, 2011). Somewhat later, at 11 months, infants growing up in Latine or White families exhibit a bias to looking at minority group faces (Singarajah, 2017), which may reflect the preference for novelty outweighing the preference for familiarity (Aslin, 2007). In this way, children build on their core knowledge through their lived experiences, which occur within their socio-cultural contexts (Guitierrez & Rogoff, 2003; Guttierrez et al., 2017). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-2 This chapter briefly reviews the neurobiological and socio-behavioral research that shows the influence of early life experiences on early childhood development, including brain development, that can impact outcomes later in life. It then describes the science of early learning, detailing the multiplicity of ways children learn, from active exploration and observation of others to adults’ explicitly sharing knowledge with them. Content and skills typically shared by adults with children include domain-general skills—social and emotional learning and executive functioning skills—as well as domain-specific skills—language, literacy, and mathematics learning. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications of the science of early childhood development and early learning for preschool curriculum development, including cultural and linguistic variations in learning opportunities and learning. NEUROBIOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT The early developmental period is recognized as the most important developmental phase of the lifespan, during which the young child’s experiences and exposures sculpt the brain to ready it for learning and positive adaptation. Building on these principles of neuroplasticity, the preschool period and preschool experiences may have a particularly important impact on developmental trajectories and provide opportunities to build strong foundational skills more efficiently than is the case later in development. Thus, the preschool period is a window of opportunity for enhanced learning, and the neuroscience of sensitive periods can be used to inform the content, timing, and pedagogical focus of early educational curricula. In other words, the neuroscience of sensitive periods provides a roadmap for the “what,” “when,” and “how” of early curricula. Experiences across environmental contexts play a significant role in early development. As summarized in a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineer, and Medicine [NASEM] report, Vibrant and Healthy Kids: A large body of recent research provides insights into the mechanisms by which early adversity in the lives of young children and their families can change the timing of sensitive periods of brain and other organ system development and impact the “plasticity” of developmental processes…a wave of neurobiological studies in model systems and humans found that responses to pre- and postnatal early life stress are rooted in genetic and environmental interactions that can result in altered molecular and cellular development that impacts the assembly of circuits during sensitive periods of development. The demonstration that certain systems involved in cognitive and emotional development are more sensitive to early disturbances that activate stress response networks, such as the frontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, provided a basis for both short- and long-term functional consequences of early life stress. New research has clarified that altered nutrition, exposure to environmental chemicals, and chronic stress during specific times of development can lead to functional biological changes that predispose individuals to manifest diseases and/or experience altered physical, social-emotional, and cognitive functions later in life (NASEM, 2019, p. 7). This section reviews key features of early development with particular relevance for fostering positive outcomes for preschool-aged children, including the caregiving environment, the presence of stress, and access to resources. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-3 Caregiving Environment The early caregiving environment—including familial relationships; safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments; healthy living conditions; economic security; nutrition and food security; neighborhood and community conditions; housing; and environmental exposures—is crucial for long-term development (NASEM, 2019). Importantly, children learn optimally when they feel safe and secure in their home and neighborhood environment before arriving at preschool. Critical for this sense of basic security and readiness to learn and thrive is the presence of at least one nurturing and reliable primary caregiver upon whom a child can rely for protection and necessary physical and emotional support and assistance (Brown et al., 2020). This is necessary under all circumstances but particularly critical in environments with high rates of early adversity, where buffering factors are of paramount importance to ensuring positive developmental trajectories (Brown et al., 2020). Certain supports within the caregiving environment are also necessary to enable young children to benefit optimally from learning experiences. Along this line, one key prerequisite is regular daily rhythms, central to which is the opportunity for restful sleep, which has been shown to be a necessary precondition for optimizing learning and memory in early childhood, as well as throughout life (Spencer et al., 2017). A related finding is that unpredictable parenting signals (e.g., parents behaving erratically) are associated with poorer executive functioning in middle childhood (Davis et al., 2022; Granger et al., 2021), a phenomenon also seen in animal models, where alterations in the development of subserving brain circuitry have been demonstrated (Davis et al., 2022). The basic forms of adversity in early childhood that have been shown to impact brain development and learning negatively are deprivation, threat, and unpredictability; therefore, these key domains need to be addressed prior to school entry if learning is to be optimized (McLaughlin & Sheridan, 2016). Importantly, when children live in chaotic households and/or neighborhoods that are impoverished and have high rates of violent crime, their basic sense of security and regularity is undermined. More obvious is the need for adequate nutrition to maintain energy, focus, and alertness. These prerequisites within the caregiving environment—sleep, predictability, and nutrition—are often either overlooked or assumed to be available to all children. In fact, many children do not have these foundational biological supports, a social reality highly relevant, and representing a major impediment, to many developing children’s ability to learn. Early Exposure to Stress Related to these prerequisites of security, safety, adequate protection, and necessary resources, studies have demonstrated that children exposed to trauma and chronic stress have physiological responses that impact brain development and functioning in ways that interfere with the learning process. High levels of chronic stress impact both brain and behavior in ways that put the child on “high alert” for ongoing and expected threats, which of necessity diverts their attention from the learning process and alters cognitive processes that allow consolidation of memory, executive function, and other elements essential to learning (Gunnar, 2020). These conditions elevate circulating stress hormones, notably cortisol, with receptors in key brain regions necessary for learning and memory. Chronic exposure to elevated stress hormones without external buffers, such as supportive caregivers, has been shown to alter brain development and related cognitive capacities negatively over time (Lupien et al., 2007). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-4 Accordingly, children with these exposures may require additional supports before and in concert with their entry into preschool environments to facilitate their development of the basic prerequisites for their ability to learn. In addition to psychosocial stressors, children living in low resource environments also have greater exposure to environmental toxins (NASEM, 2023). It has become clear over the past several decades that exposures to low levels of a growing list of environmental toxins founds in air and water contribute to poor outcomes ranging from low birth weight, shorter gestation and intellectual disability and increased risk for psychopathology (Lanphear, 2015; NASEM, 2023). The detrimental effects of these exposures in utero and in early childhood are underscored by the fact that the blood brain barrier is more permeable during this period and that growing organs are more susceptible to the negative effects of toxins. Based on these facts, these exposures which are ubiquitous but more common in under resourced neighborhoods, pose a major threat to the young child’s ability to learn (Kumar et al., 2023). Minoritized children and families face structural inequities, unequal treatment, and acts of discrimination and racism that add to the cumulative burden of stress and require focused attention (Shonkoff, Slopen, & Williams, 2021). Researchers have recently turned their attention to the unique impacts of racism on the foundations of physical and mental health. Studies of residential segregation by race as they affect risk exposures and health have, for example, linked poorer pregnancy outcomes among women of color to disproportionate exposures to environmental toxins (Miranda et al., 2009). At the family level, parents’ self-reported experiences of discrimination have been associated with their children’s social and emotional problems, as well as with increased levels of cortisol and proinflammatory cytokines—indicators of disrupted stress response systems (Bécares et al., 2015; Condon et al., 2019; Gassman-Pines, 2015 as cited in Shonkoff et al. 2021, p. 123). And Black children are three times more likely than their White counterparts to lose their mother by age 10 (Umberson et al., 2017). These are among the experiences of adversity arising from racism, and their impacts, that minoritized children bring with them into their early childhood settings. To facilitate learning for these children, then, early educators need to be sensitized to and prepared to buffer these experiences. Towards this end, knowledge of trauma informed approaches is a critical component of the professional preparation of early educators (de la Osa et al., 2024). Access to Resources Related to these basic prerequisites for early learning, neurodevelopmental research has shown that family socioeconomic status, particularly poverty, is negatively associated with differences in brain structure and function in multiple domains, including language, cognition, executive functions, memory, and social-emotional processes (e.g., Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; Hackman et al., 2015; Noble, McCandliss & Farah, 2007; Stevens, Lauinger & Neville, 2009). Moreover, experiences that include those discussed above, as well as differences in opportunities to learn, have been found to account for a significant portion of the relationship between socioeconomic status and learning and development (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; Capron & Duyme, 1989; Duncan et al., 1994; Jimerson et al., 2000; Noble et al., 2007; Schiff et al., 1982). Recent data from the Child Opportunity Index, which ranks neighborhoods on multiple dimensions of opportunity, such as access to early childhood centers and healthy food outlets, reveal that a majority of Black, Latine, and Native American children reside in low- or very low–opportunity communities, compared with one in five White and Asian children Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-5 (Acevedo-Garcia et al., 2020).In addition, there is increasing evidence that exposure to “green space” and outdoor spaces are important for multiple developmental domains including emotional well-being (McCormick, 2017). HOW CHILDREN LEARN: THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING Children learn in a multiplicity of ways—through active exploration and play; through observation of others, notably older children and adults; and through adults’ explicitly sharing knowledge with them. This section reviews each of these types of learning in turn. While these three types of learning occur across all cultures, their prevalence differs depending on cultural context. For example, children from U.S. Mexican heritage families in which mothers had experience with indigenous ways were found to be much more likely to learn from observing a toy construction activity directed to another child compared with Mexican heritage children whose mothers had extensive experience going to Western schools (Silva, Correa-Chavez, & Rogoff, 2010). Further, as discussed later in this chapter in the section on language learning, children learn through child-directed speech as well as through listening to adult conversations, with the prevalence of these learning opportunities differing depending on cultural context (e.g., Schneidman & Goldin-Meadow, 2012; Casillas et al., 2020). Exploration and Play Exploration and play have long been recognized as universal aspects of childhood as they are found in every culture that has been studied (e.g., Hughes, 1999; see Vandermaas-Peeler, 2002 for review). At the same time, play varies across cultural contexts in multiple ways, including the nature of play activities children engage in, reflecting the diversity of children’s experiences as well as the materials that are available, the degree to which adults and older children are involved in the play, and the nature of their involvement (e.g., Haight et al., 1999; Roopnarine et al., 1998; Vandermaas-Peeler, 2002 for review). There is also cultural variation in the degree to which play is viewed as being tied to learning or as differing from learning, which is viewed as more linked to work (Metaferia et al., 2021). Environmental factors can also affect the extent to which children have access to safe environments for play. As noted in the 2023 National Academies report, Closing the Opportunity Gap for Young Children, children from families with lower incomes and children from minoritized populations are more likely to live in environments where there is a risk of exposure to environmental contaminants. In addition, children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to be in environments where there is poor urban planning, increased risk of injury from roadways and traffic, and higher rates of neighborhood violence (NASEM, 2023). Various constructivist theorists have highlighted the importance of play and exploration in the development of children’s thinking, language, and social skills (e.g., Bruner, 1983; Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky, 1967, 1978). These theorists posit that the information children gain through play and exploration is not just passively received, but rather is actively integrated with their prior concepts and ideas (see Narayan et al., 2013, for review). They also characterize play as a joyful activity that plays an important role in development and learning. For example, Bruner (1983) characterized play as joyful way of solving problems and as a testbed for trying out and combining ideas and skills without worrying about consequences of failing to achieve a goal. Dewey (1910) emphasized the importance of a playful attitude toward the process of learning Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-6 coupled with the serious attitude of work toward to goals of learning. These theories differ in the emphasis they place on adults and older children as promoting children’s learning through explorations and play. Piaget (1970), for example, focused on the role of the child’s own explorations of the world, characterizing the child as a little scientist who actively gather information by exploring the world. In contrast, Vygotsky, Dewey, and Bruner considered the role of adults and older children in supporting children’s development during play and other activities via the provision of materials and through language interactions (e.g., Bruner, 1983; Dewey,1910; Vygotsky, 1967, 1978). Notably, Vygotsky (1978) highlighted the role of adults in extending children’s learning by providing scaffolding that allows them to extend their learning into their zone of proximal development. Contemporary researchers have built on and extended the work of these theorists. A growing body of research shows that children engage in and learn from active exploration as early as infancy. For example, as early as 11 months of age, babies learned more, and engaged in more relevant exploratory behaviors, when objects violated their expectations than from nearly identical experiences that were consistent with their expectations (Stahl & Feigenson, 2015). Follow-up studies replicated these findings and showed that infants explore more after an event that violated their expectations (e.g., an object that appeared to float) because they are seeking an explanation for why objects behaved in this manner (Perez & Feigenson, 2022). Studies involving preschool children provide compelling evidence that children learn from exploration and explore more than adults even when they know that exploration carries risks (e.g., Gopnik, 2012, 2020; Schultz, 2012; Xu & Kushnir, 2013; Liquin & Gopnik, 2022). For example, in a task that involved discovering how stimuli were classified differently, Liquin & Gopnik (2022) found that preschool children were more likely to explore than adults, and children’s propensity to explore enhanced their success on this task. Another study showed that 4 to 6-years-olds learned more when active exploration was encouraged and when adults did not fill in all the gaps in children’s knowledge. In one study, Bonowitz et al (2011) gave preschool children (48–72 months; mean age 58 months) a novel toy with four different functions. Children were randomized into one of four conditions that varied in terms of the pedagogical support the adult provided. Two critical conditions were the pedagogical condition, where an adult showed them one function of the toy (that it squeaked) and a baseline condition in which the adult merely gave them the toy without demonstrating any of its functions. Strikingly, the children discovered significantly more of the functions of the toy in the non-pedagogical baseline condition (M = 4.0) than in the pedagogical condition (M = 5.3). Moreover, children played with the toy significantly longer in the non-pedagogical condition. In another study, 4- to 5- year-old children were presented with finding out the “secret of shapes” (e.g., triangles), and were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the didactic, pedagogical condition the adult directly taught the attributes of triangles; in the guided play condition the child was encouraged to do the discovering with teacher scaffolding; and in the free play condition, children were just given the shapes to play with. Strikingly, children learned more about the defining features of shapes when they were in the guided play condition compared to both the direct instruction and the free play conditions, and this was true both immediately after the training and one week later. Considered together, these findings highlight the benefits of guided play in supporting children’s learning as well as their persistence. This kind of play provides the child with agency to test their nascent theories about the world. It also provides them with adult-guided situations and language that support their learning (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2020). Contemporary researchers, Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-7 aligned with the Vygotskian view, emphasize the role of guided play in supporting the child’s active exploration of their environment and their learning. Research findings indicate that guided play not only supports the growth of content knowledge (the “what” of learning) but also the learning process (the “how” of learning), which together enable them to pursue their questions, to problem solve, and to collaborate. With the exponential growth of information in our contemporary society, it is important that children’s experiences help them gain content knowledge, but also the confidence, curiosity, creativity, communication and collaborative skills, valued skills in the 21st century, termed the “6 Cs” (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2020). Aligned with research and theory highlighting the connection of play to children’s learning, preschool teachers rate children who display curiosity as having higher learning ability/skills, and teachers’ ratings of children’s curiosity in preschool are associated with children’s achievement levels at kindergarten entry (Shah et al., 2018). However, despite these documented benefits of exploration and play, there are variations in preschool environments in terms of whether exploration and question asking are encouraged or discouraged in favor of more structured activities that emphasize correct answers and adults providing children with information (Reid & Kagan, 2022). This may be linked to the belief that play and learning are separate, a false dichotomy discussed in Chapter 4. As pointed out by Zosh et al. (2018), there are many different kinds of play, and failure to recognize the nuanced spectrum of types of play can lead to confusion about how play relates to and supports learning. Play ranges from adult directed play activities where the adult sets up a play activity with a learning goal in mind, to guided play where the adult gives the child agency but provides scaffolding and guidance during the play with a learning goal in mind, to free play, in which the child both initiates and constructs the play without a specific learning goal (Zosh et al., 2018). Zosh et al. point out that play can be characterized by three attributes: the level of adult involvement, the extent to which the child creates the play, and whether a learning goal is present (Figure 3-1). FIGURE 3-1 Playful experiences differ along a continuum in terms of initiation and direction of the experience and whether there is a learning goal. SOURCE: Zosh et al., 2018. Hirsh-Pasek and colleagues propose that guided play provides a sweet spot for supporting children’s learning, as well as their curiosity, creativity, and collaborative skills (e.g., Hirsh- Pasek, 2008; Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2020, 2022; Zosh et al., 2018). This is the case because in guided play, the teacher plays the role of facilitator, which allows for intentional learning goals that can be tuned to the child’s current skill levels. At the same time, the light-touch hand of the teacher in guided play activities provides the child with agency, which is positively associated with academic outcomes and interests (e.g., Bruner, 1983; Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2020, 2022). For example, one study examined parents’ use of spatial language when playing with their four-year- old children in three conditions—one involving free play with blocks, a second involving guided play with blocks where the goal was to build a particular structure, and a third involving play Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-8 with a structure that was preassembled (Ferrara et al., 2011). Parents in the guided play condition produced more spatial language compared with those in the free play or preassembled conditions. This finding is important because spatial language supports children’s spatial thinking, which in turn predicts success in the STEM disciplines (e.g., Casasola et al., 2020; Hawes & Ansari, 2020; Mix et al., 2016, 2021; Pruden, Levine & Huttenlocher, 2011; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). Related to these findings, pretend play and guided play are associated with oral language and literacy outcomes, likely because the language in which children engage during play is complex and contains rich vocabulary, including many mental state verbs (e.g., Bruner, 1982; Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Pellegrini & Galda, 1990; Roskos & Christie, 2001; Toub et al., 2018). Further, play activities support knowledge of mathematical language and thinking. Notably, play with a variety of materials provides opportunities to think about spatial relationships and patterns, either imagined or built; to compare magnitudes and shapes; and to enumerate sets (Eason et al., Levine, 2022; Eason et al., 2021; Fisher et al., 2013; Ramani & Siegler, 2008; Seo & Ginsburg, 2004; Siegler & Ramani, 2008). While play-based learning is increasingly emphasized in research and practice in Western Euro-American contexts, there is, as reviewed previously in this chapter, a rich literature documenting differences in the nature of play, the involvement of parents in play, and the amount of play children engage in depending on culture (see Vandermaas-Peeler, 2002 for review). Through three contrasting examples, Gaskins, Haight and Lancy (2007) highlight the fact that play is socially constructive, and that adults play differing roles in children’s play depending on culture. Whereas urban, educated American and Taiwanese adults cultivate children’s pretend play, in Liberia, the Kpelle, who are subsistence horticulturists, accept but do not participate in children’s play as they need to conserve their time and energy to providing food and maintaining their own strength. Instead, other children, including older children, are the playmates of younger children. Finally, in the Yucatec-Mayan culture, where people live in subsistence farming communities, development is seen as the unfolding of one’s inner abilities and character. Consistent with this view, play is viewed as a distraction for children when they cannot help. Play still occurs, with older children taking the lead in pretend play, which typically involves pretending to do the work of adults rather than fantasy play. Additionally, the peak of pretend play in Yucatec-Mayan children is between ages 6 and 8, much later than the 3 to 6-year-old peak in Euro-American families. Rather than encouraging play, in the Yucatec-Mayan culture, children are encouraged to observe and work alongside adults in their community as their work can eventually contribute to the overall productivity of the society. These cultural differences serve to illustrate the sociocultural nature of play. Despite these cultural differences, the preschool landscape around the globe is currently undergoing rapid change, with many countries embracing play-based early education curricula. These changes are not without challenges, and often mismatch with teacher and parent beliefs, lead to inequities, and face challenges such as lack of teacher professional development to implement these changes and large student: teacher ratios (Gupta, 2011; Lee et al., 2022). In India, play-based private schools are equated with developmentally appropriate practices. Importantly, Gupta questions the appropriateness of Western, play-based approaches within a culture that prioritizes examination scores for access to higher education, and advocates for approaches to early childhood education that emerge from Indian cultural values. One example noted is a teacher’s statement that “it rains so children can play in the water”, which connects a child-centered approach to the scarcity of water and the spirituality of the Monsoon season. In Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-9 Korea, the revised Nuri curriculum (2019) put a heavy emphasis on free play, and this has led to confusion among teachers about their role is supporting children’s learning (Lee et al., 2022). The lack of professional development around play is a factor in this confusion, and the emphasis on free play is at odds with research findings showing that guided play is more conducive to supporting many learning goals. Moreover, the fit of particular play-based approaches in different cultural contexts likely varies, as argued by Gupta (2011). The studies discussed above highlight the importance of considering play in a culturally responsive manner, not as something in which all children engage in a uniform manner. Viewed in this way, children’s play has the potential to contribute to the cultural relevance of early education, as child-initiated play reflects children’s cultural experiences and how they see themselves within the larger society, providing teachers with an important lens into understanding children’s lived experiences (Adair & Doucet, 2014). Moreover, children’s play provides teachers with a way to engage in guided play and to build on children’s interests and skills, which, as we have discussed, may be a sweet spot for supporting learning. A 2022 study involving interviews with 31 early childhood experts from different fields provides some relevant information with respect to play in early childhood education contexts that serve children from different demographic backgrounds (Reid & Kagan, 2022). The experts were broadly supportive of the importance of play in early childhood curricula and relatedly, were supportive of autonomy-granting approaches that give young children a voice in how they learn. Their support for this kind of approach recognizes the importance of children’s interests, curiosity, and explorations in the learning process and aligns with the research base. Nonetheless, the experts disagreed about the amount and nature of play that best supports children’s learning. Roughly half called for more play in curricula, whereas others noted that play-based approaches have gone too far in some schools. A potential explanation for disagreements about the role of play in early childhood curricula may be the cultural differences in how play is valued and practiced, as discussed previously. Many of the experts interviewed by Reid and Kagan (2022) also expressed the belief that the amount of play children experience varies by the socioeconomic status of the children in the classroom, such that children from a background of lower socioeconomic status experience less play. Consistent with this belief, Adair and Colegrove (2021) provide evidence that there is “segregation by experience” in educational settings, such that young children in classrooms characterized by higher socioeconomic status have more opportunities to be agents in their learning and are provided with more opportunities to carry out explorations of their world compared with children in classrooms characterized by lower socioeconomic status, who are disproportionately children of color. Instead, young children of color are more often required to sit with their legs folded and hands placed together in silence, not because they need to attend to pedagogical content but for the purpose of practicing valued behaviors (Adair & Colegrove, 2021). Similarly, an influential paper utilizing two waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K) data (1998 and 2011) reports evidence that kindergarten was more like first grade (more structured with less play) in the more recent cohort, influenced by the No Child Left Behind Act and increased accountability and testing. Bassok and colleagues found that this was more starkly the case in settings serving children eligible for free or reduced- price lunch or children who were non-White (Bassok, Lathem, & Rorem, 2016). For example, kindergarten teachers serving a larger percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (in the highest quartile of representation of this group) were significantly more likely to Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-10 endorse the importance of children’s knowing the alphabet at the time of kindergarten entry than was the case for kindergarten teachers serving students from backgrounds of higher socioeconomic status (51% versus 34%, respectively). These beliefs, whether implicit or explicit, are likely to have downstream consequences in terms of the nature of the pedagogy and curricula adopted in different early childhood settings, resulting in inequities in early learning opportunities. The focus on more direct pedagogy and basic skills in classrooms serving children of lower socioeconomic status, racially minoritized, and immigrant backgrounds stems from deficit models, which incorporate the belief that minoritized children need direct instruction to build basic academic skills (e.g., vocabulary, letter recognition, counting) in order to narrow achievement gaps. Moreover, inequities in agentic learning stem from views about what children from different groups can handle, based, for example, on ideas about the word gap in children of Latine immigrants (Adair, Colegrove, & McManus, 2017). When shown videos of Latine children engaging in agentic learning, teachers and school administrators in schools that were not videotaped but that also served Latine children commonly said these practices are valuable but would not work in their classrooms because their students lacked vocabulary knowledge necessary for these practices to work. Moreover, children who viewed these videos were consistent in their evaluations of the children in the videos as being bad, as not learning, as being too noisy, and as not listening to their teachers. While well meaning, limiting children’s agency in early education contexts based on perceived shortcomings denies children the kinds of experiences they need to build advanced language and thinking skills, as well as skills that involve pursuing learning in which they are interested and collaborating and conversing with other children. Differential access to autonomy-granting, play-based pedagogy in early education is potentially harmful, and typically rooted in stereotypes about weaknesses of children and their families instead of being attributed to systemic factors that contribute to group differences, such as differential opportunities to learn (Adair, 2015; Adair & Colegrove, 2021; Adair et al., 2017; NASEM, 2023). Young children need to gain both basic skills and higher-order thinking skills and be afforded the opportunities to acquire these skills in early education settings. Focusing on basic skills through direct instruction to the exclusion of agentic play-based activities may have unintended negative consequences because such gains have been found to fade over time (Bailey et al., 2017, 2020; 2016). In contrast, instruction that includes more play-based activities designed to foster exploration, curiosity, complex language skills, and higher-order thinking (e.g., acting out child-created narratives; exploring the conditions that lead plants to grow at different rates) are associated with positive long-term effects on children’s learning, as well as on their learning dispositions (e.g., Frausel et al., 2021; Frausel et al., 2020). Thus, differences in pedagogical approaches that are related to biased perceptions about children’s sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds may be harmful, as they are likely to contribute to the very disparities in achievement they are intended to close. A shortcoming of the current research base examining the prevalence and benefits of play and exploration is that it that play-based curricula and learning have not been systematically examined in ECE settings of different types, and in settings that serve children from differing cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. While existing research suggests that there is a lack of equity in play-based approaches to learning in early education settings, more research is needed to confirm that this is the case and if so, to understand why this is happening. Further, research is needed to examine the benefits of play-based learning for children from different backgrounds. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-11 An essential step in addressing these gaps would be to conduct systematic research on children’s experience with agentic learning in early education settings serving children from diverse backgrounds, and to study the benefits of this approach for children’s learning as well as for culturally affirming practices that foster the belonging of children and families. In view of evidence from the science of learning, it is important that all children are provided with engaging, agentic learning experiences. With content knowledge exploding exponentially, educational approaches that support not only the “what” but the “how” of learning are of increasing importance. Children need to learn how to gain new knowledge, how to find answers to their questions, how to problem solve, how to communicate their ideas, and how to collaborate. These active, agentic, and playful approaches to learning, when implemented well, can serve to nurture children’s excitement about learning. Observation of Others Beginning with Bandura’s (1977) pioneering work on social learning, observational learning and imitation have been considered to be an important avenue for development and learning. Bandura posited that children observe and imitate role models and that this kind of learning requires attention, memory, reproduction, and motivation. More recent research has shown that humans, beginning in infancy, are astute observational learners. As early as 14 months of age, children engage in “over-imitation”, highlighting their sensitivity to the culture they experience. For example, when they see an adult turn a light on by bending forward from the waist and touching a panel with their head, they imitate this behavior (Meltzoff, 1988). Although it would have been easier and less awkward to turn on the light with their hands, the infants turned on the light with their heads, imitating not only the goal but the means by which the adult turned the light on. Additionally, findings show that infants do not imitate what they perceive to be accidental behaviors or actions carried out by inanimate devices, but rather imitate intentional behaviors, even when those behaviors fail to achieve the intended goal (Carpenter, Akhtar & Tomasello, 1998; Meltzoff, 1995). In other words, children imitate the intention of the agent as well as the means by which they achieved their goal. Moreover, as early as the second year of life, children are more likely to imitate the actions of a linguistic ingroup-member than an to imitate an agent who speaks a foreign language (Buttleman et al., 2013; Howard et al., 2015). Preschool children are also less likely to imitate an onscreen robot than an onscreen human agent (Sommer et al., 2021). The proclivity of humans to imitate other humans, particularly members of their ingroup, represents a powerful way in which culture is shared inter-generationally. Thus, observation and imitation contribute to the accumulation and growth of knowledge across generations (e.g., Tomasello, 2020; Tomasello, Kruger, & Ratner, 1993). Building on findings showing that young children are astute cultural learners, Rogoff and colleagues have studied the learning behaviors of children in Indigenous American communities and have documented differences in the learning behaviors and experiences of children who are growing up in different cultural contexts. Their Learning by Observing and Pitching In (LOPI) model, characterizes a kind of learning that is common in Indigenous American communities although not exclusive to these communities (Rogoff, Mejía-Arauz, & Correa-Chávez, 2015) (Figure 3-2). LOPI consists of seven related facets, with the central facet being that the learner is incorporated in, and contributing to, meaningful family and community endeavors. LOPI Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-12 involves wide-lens observing and listening-in on mature, purposive adult activities and conversations, being guided by members of the community to contribute to communal goals, with the goal of having young children, contribute to meaningful cultural activities, which increases their sense of belonging. Building on the LOPI model, Bang and colleagues highlight the more than human ecological interactions of Menominee Indian communities in Wisconsin, extending the LOPI model to include human-nature as well as human-human interactions (e.g., extending component 5 of the LOPI model to include wide-lens attention to human interactions with animals, plants, and non-animate natural kinds like water in Figure 3-2; Bang et al., 2015). The LOPI model is concordant with basic research findings highlighting the early sensitivity of children to the purposeful behaviors of adults around them, and their selective imitation of their behaviors. Importantly, as pointed out by Rogoff et al. (2015) LOPI is deeply embedded in the cultures of Indigenous American communities and is consistent with many other practices and values of these communities. Rogoff and colleagues contrast LOPI learning to Assembly Line Instruction (ASI) (Figure 3-3). ASI typically involves separating children from adult activities and providing instruction outside of the context of adult activities, often at school (Rogoff et al., 2015). As pointed out by Pelligrini (2009), the type of instruction detailed in the ASI model is relatively recent and is associated with industrialized societies. The careful work of these researchers shows that the ways that children learn as well as what they learn is deeply connected to their cultural contexts. These findings hold important implications for early childhood education, as the kinds of learning that children experience may be very different from what they experience in their homes and communities. FIGURE 3-2 Learning by Observing and Pitching In. SOURCE: Rogoff, Mejía-Arauz, & Correa-Chávez, 2015. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-13 FIGURE 3-3 Assembly-Line Instruction. SOURCE: Rogoff, Mejía-Arauz, & Correa-Chávez, 2015. Sharing Knowledge through Verbal Exchanges Much of what children know and learn is influenced by the transmission of knowledge across generations Indeed, the uniqueness of human cognition, including the human ability to innovate, depends on this inter-generational sharing, referred to as the “ratchet effect” (e.g., Tennie, Call, & Tomasello, 2009). Sharing of knowledge with children occurs in a variety of ways, but a common way knowledge is shared is through language, which is commonly referred to as “learning from testimony” (see Harris et al., 2018). This sharing occurs for multiple kinds of information but is particularly important for types of knowledge that are not accessible to children through their own explorations or first-hand observations. These include, for example, information about distant countries, historical events, microscopic entities, and the solar system (e.g., Harris, 2012; Harris et al., 2018). Aligned with the views of constructivist theorists, young children are active participants in this sharing. That is, they do not just passively accept information that others share with them. Instead, they evaluate new information with respect to their pre-existing knowledge and curate information based on whether the informant is credible (see Harris et al., 2018 for review). Koenig and Echols (2003) found that as early as 16 months of age, children are sensitive to the credibility of an informant, for example, looking longer at an informant that labeled a dog as a “cup”. Similarly, 3- and 4-year-olds who were able to identify accurate and inaccurate labelers of objects showed trust in novel information provided by the accurate labeler (Koenig, Clément, & Harris, 2004). In three meta-analyses, Tong and colleagues found that 3- to 6-year-old children trust the testimony of credible informants as well as the testimony of informants with more positive social characteristics, e.g., information provided by characters they perceive as nicer. In addition, they identified an important developmental change between ages 3 and 4 years of age Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-14 such that 4-years-olds weigh informants’ knowledge more heavily than their social characteristics of whereas 3-year-olds do not, possibly related to increases in theory of mind at age 4 (Tong, Wang, & Danovitch, 2020). Children’s Learning During the Preschool Years In this section, we briefly consider the kinds of skills children begin to acquire in the early years of life, including skills that are considered to be “domain general” and those considered to be more “domain specific”. Domain general skills include social and emotional learning (SEL) and executive functioning skills (EF). They also include language skills, which of course support communication and literacy, but provide tools for understanding relational concepts, (e.g., deVilliers, 2014; Gentner, 2016). Domain specific skills, such as numerical thinking and understanding the physical world, begin with core sensitivities that are present from birth onward, but require acquisition of knowledge (e.g., the count system) to transcend these starting points (e.g., Spelke & Kinzler, 2007; Carey & Barner, 2019). Importantly, learning in all of these domains predicts academic learning as well as important life outcomes including health, income, and life satisfaction (e.g., Diamond, 2015; Moffatt et al., 2011; Ritchie & Bates, 2013; Watts et al., 2014). As reviewed in Chapters 2 and 4, early childhood curricula can be broadly separated into focusing on the comprehensive or whole-child curricula or focused, domain specific curricula. Most multi-domain preschool curricula addressed the domains of literacy/language, math, science, socioemotional learning, and the arts. Importantly, during the preschool years, instructional activities often support multiple domains of learning. To take just one example, experiencing a book about sharing may support children’s social and emotional learning, their mathematical learning, and their language and literacy development. In the sections that follow, we provide a brief overview of research on young children’s learning in key domains that are included in ECE curricula, including social-emotional learning, executive functioning, language/literacy learning, and mathematical learning. Social and Emotional Development as Foundational for Learning Decades of research has made clear that early emotional development, evidenced by the ability to identify and express one’s own emotional states, accurately recognize emotions expressed by others, and adaptively regulate intense emotions is key to adaptive success in childhood and later life (NRC & IOM, 2000). There is also evidence that these skills can be fostered and enhanced in early childhood learning environments (Denham, 2019). These features of emotional competence—comprising emotion knowledge; an understanding of the causes, consequences, and display rules of an emotion (Izard et al., 2011); and the ability to regulate emotion—then foster the development of social skills. These social and emotional skills together facilitate the ability to engage in meaningful interpersonal relationships and interactions characterized by prosocial behavior, empathy, and interpersonal connectedness with peers. It also has become clear that these social-emotional competencies set the stage for enhanced learning trajectories, a finding validated by a meta-analysis showing that interventions focused on social- emotional learning increased academic performance by 11 percentile points (Durlak et al., 2011). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-15 Those children with better social-emotional skills also showed reduced conduct problems and emotional distress, more prosocial behaviors, and more positive social attitudes toward self and others. In keeping with this finding, greater social-emotional competence has been associated with less psychopathology and more adaptive and academic success broadly within early childhood and beyond (Finlon et al., 2015). At preschool age or earlier, children are able to infer basic emotions from expressions and situations (Bell et al., 2019; Denham, 2019). Increased early exposure to language has been shown to support emotional development (Lindquist et al., 2015). More broadly, a supportive relationship with a primary caregiver has been established as foundational for social and emotional development (NASEM, 2023). The supportive primary caregiver may provide emotion language to aid in emotion knowledge. Perhaps more important, the caregiver serves as the child’s external emotion regulator and emotion coach (also referred to as coregulation in infancy), and models and validates the appropriate expression of emotion in context. Further, evidence indicates that greater language skills support the young child’s ability to regulate emotional autonomously instead of relying on caregiver-supported regulation (Eisenberg et al., 2005; NASEM, 2000). Accordingly, many early childhood interventions designed for the prevention of later psychopathology target this element of the child–caregiver relationship and facilitation of the child’s emotion knowledge and competence (Bohlmann et al., 2015; Salmon et al., 2016; Shonkoff & Fisher, 2013). However, the importance of this focus on social-emotional development for early education is further underscored by how predictive these skills are of later academic achievement. Thus, the preschool teacher (through curriculum and teacher–child relationship dynamics) can also play an important role in facilitating social-emotional development and should be an important focus of curriculum development and prioritization. In summary, early social and emotional development represents foundational skills that are necessary for healthy learning trajectories. Further, these skills are important beyond their role as foundational for cognitive development, having interactive effects across developmental domains: cognition and emotion are dynamic developmental processes, with the maturation of one serving as a catalyst for enhancement of higher-level skills in the other (Bell & Wolfe, 2004; Bell et al., 2019a; Davidson et al., 2014). Executive Functioning as Foundational for Learning Executive functioning skills include working memory, inhibitory control, attention shifting, and cognitive flexibility (Miyake et al., 2000). These skills develop rapidly during the preschool years, with their development being related to the maturation of the prefrontal cortex (Diamond, 2020). Prior to about 4.5 years of age, the various components of executive functioning load on one factor and are less differentiated than at older ages (e.g., Wiebe et al., 2011). Early executive functioning skills and self-regulation skills are related to concurrent and future academic achievement (e.g., Alloway & Alloway, 2010; Blair, 2016; Bull, Espe & Wiebe, 2008; Schmidt et al., 2022; Zelazo et al., 1997). EF skills are related to children’s socioeconomic (SES) background by 54 months of age, and this relation is stable across development (Lawson, Hook, & Farah, 2018; Hackman et al., 2015). Moreover, EF skills partially mediate the relation of SES to academic achievement in young children (Lawson & Farah, 2017; Waters et al., 2021). Efforts to understand the relation of Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-16 SES and EF reveal that family stress and family investment are related to the SES-EF relation. That is, the emotional support (e.g., warmth) and cognitive stimulation they provide are positively related to children’s EF skills whereas their intrusiveness and control are negatively related to children’s EF skills (see Koşkulu -Sancar et al., 2023 for review). Importantly, EF skills are malleable; they improve when family economic circumstances improve, consistent with neurobiological evidence from animal models (Hackman et al., 2015; McEwen & Morrison, 2014). There is a large body of research examining the effects of various kinds of training on EF skills (e.g., curricular/educational approaches, activities targeting particular EF skills, multilingual exposure in the first years of life, computer games and physical activities (see Clements & Sarama, 2019; Diamond & Ling, 2016; and NASEM, 2017 for review). These efforts have shown mixed results and there are many remaining questions about the kinds and intensity of training that are required to yield positive results, and particularly what determines generalizability and durability of training effects that are found. Diamond and Ling (2016) review existing evidence and conclude that many kinds of training enhance the trained skill in the same and similar contexts, but that generalization of trained EF skills is narrow. That is, training does not extend beyond contexts that are highly similar to those used in training. Moreover, positive effects of training fade over time as is true for other cognitive skills (Diamond & Ling, 2016). There is also evidence that EF interventions may be more effective for children with low EF skills, including children growing up in poverty and those diagnosed with ADHD (e.g., Diamond and Ling, 2016; Klingberg et al., 2005; Tominey & McClelland, 2011). As mentioned above, preschool children’s EF skills relate to their academic achievement, including later literacy (e.g., Bierman et al., 2008) and mathematics skills (e.g., Clark et al., 2010). The relation of early EF to mathematics is stronger than the relation of EF to literacy, perhaps due to the greater EF demands of early mathematics (e.g., Blair et al., 2011; Fuhs, Farran & Nesbitt, 2015; McClelland et al., 2014; Monette, Bigras, & Guay, 2011; see Clements, Sarama & Germeroth, 2015, for review). Of course, correlational evidence leaves the directionality of EF–academic achievement relation ambiguous, and experimental evidence is necessary to determine the causal direction of these relations (e.g., Van der Ven et al., 2012; see Clements et al., 2015 for review). One study used this approach to examine the effects of different preschool curricula on children’s kindergarten EF skills. Findings of this randomized experiment showed that children who received the Building Blocks mathematics curriculum in preschool had stronger EF skills in kindergarten compared to both children in Building Blocks plus Scaffolding EF condition and the Business-as-Usual condition (Clements et al., 2020). These findings suggest that curricula that engage children in mathematical thinking have spillover effects that are beneficial to EF, and in fact work better than a curriculum that focuses on both mathematics and EF skills. There is also some evidence that ECE programs that directly support children’s EF skills are beneficial. For example, Montessori and Tools of the Mind curricula, where teachers are trained to exercise children’s EF skills, improve these skills compared to children in control classrooms (Lillard & Else-quest, 2006; Diamond et al., 2009). Relatedly, research is needed to develop curricula and pedagogical approaches that support the learning of preschool children who display a wide range of EF skills. This is Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-17 particularly important, as EF skills develop rapidly during this period. Moreover, these settings often include children of different ages, which further contributes to the variability in the EF skills of children who are in the same classroom. Language Learning Young children are prodigious language learners from the time of birth, and this is true across cultural contexts (see Chapter 7 for a detailed discussion of multilingual learning). Of course, language learning depends on having access to language experiences, which vary both quantitatively and qualitatively within and across cultural contexts. A key takeaway from research on language learning is that it is resilient: across cultural contexts, children learn their native language and also have the capacity to learn multiple other languages (NASEM, 2017). Language learning begins during the first year of life. An important early aspect of language learning is a perceptual narrowing of phonemic discrimination, which is characterized by an increase in native phoneme perception and a decrease in nonnative phoneme perception in the second half of the first year of life as a result of language experience (Kuhl et al., 2006; Kuhl et al., 1992; Werker & Tees, 1984). Moreover, this narrowing is associated with more advanced language development at later ages during the preschool period, providing evidence that it is an important step in the commitment of the brain to a child’s native period, and may represent a sensitive or critical period in language development (Kuhl et al., 2005). As noted, the rate at which young children learn language is related to the quantity and quality of their language experiences. For example, preschool children who hear more words and a more diverse set of words show higher levels of vocabulary knowledge (e.g., Huttenlocher et al., 1991). Similarly, Huttenlocher et al. (2002) found that when teachers used more complex sentences in school (defined as sentences including more than one clause), children had better comprehension of complex sentences at the end of the school year, after controlling for the overall quality of the classroom environment and children’s comprehension of complex sentences at the beginning of the year. Other studies have focused on qualitative aspects of children’s language interactions, including parents’ responsiveness to children’s vocalization, turn taking, and question asking, and how these interactions relate to language learning. With respect to parents’ responsiveness to children’s early vocalizations (at 9 and 13 months of age), findings show that it predicts children’s vocabulary growth over and above their earlier milestones (Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, & Baumwell, 2001). Parents’ responsiveness is hypothesized to increase young children’s pragmatic understanding that language is a tool for sharing intentions, which propels their language learning (Tamis-LeMonda, Kuchirko, & Song, 2014). Sociopragmatic approaches to language development emphasize the role of both members of the parent–child dyad and their joint attention in language interactions and in children’s language learning (e.g., Bruner, 1983; Nelson, 2007; Tomasello, 2003). Research within this framework has examined how turn taking between an adult and child influences the child’s language development. As shown by a meta-analysis, both turn taking and adult word counts independently predict children’s language proficiency (Wang et al., 2020). In addition, turn taking is related not only to the language skills of 4- to 6-year-olds, but also to neural activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area), which is implicated in language Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-18 processes (Romeo et al., 2018). Taken together, these findings support the role of language interaction and active child involvement in the growth of language skills. Tomasello (2020) theorizes that understanding a communicative partner as an intentional agent with whom one can share attention and collaborate is fundamental to symbolic communication and hence to the acquisition of language, which requires that the child understand that words are used to intentionally communicate with others. The importance of understanding and relating to others for language acquisition is supported by the difficulty that some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have with language learning (Hobson, 1993; Tomasello, 2000). Relatedly, asking children open-ended questions supports their language development as well as their autobiographical memory skills, and this is the case in the context of both play and book reading (Boland, Haden & Ornstein, 2003; Fivush, Haden, & Reese, 2006; Rowe, Leech & Cabrera, 2016). Open-ended questions actively engage children in conversations, which has positive effects on their language development and on their learning more generally. Further, such questions provide adults with a window into children’s language skills and thinking, which can guide their scaffolding of children’s language development. Research on shared book reading provides additional evidence supporting the importance of children’s taking an active role in language learning comes from the context of shared book reading. Dialogic reading, characterized by questions and prompts that evoke participation by children, has been shown to benefit children’s language skills, including their vocabulary and narrative skills, both immediately after interventions and after delays. Positive effects of interventions involving dialogic reading have been found in studies involving parent–child dyads as well as those involving early childhood educators and their students (Beals, DeTemple, & Dickinson, 1994; Whitehurst et al., 1988; Zevenbergen, Whitehurst, & Zevenbergen, 2003. These beneficial effects have been found for both native English speakers and children who are English language learners (Brannon & Dauksas, 2014). There is also evidence that this approach benefits the language development of preschool children with language learning disabilities (Crain-Thoreson & Dale, 1999; Dale et al., 1996). Moreover, even though shared book reading represents a relatively small percentage (9%) of young children’s overall language input, evidence shows that it supports the language development of children between 1 and 2.5 years of age, after controlling for the language children hear in non–book reading contexts (Demir-Lira, et al., 2019). This may be the case because books contain more diverse vocabulary and more complex syntactical structures than the language shared outside of the book reading context (Demir-Lira et al., 2019; Montag, Jones & Smith, 2015). Another aspect of shared book reading that is important in supporting children’s identity development and sense of belongingness is seeing themselves depicted in the books (discussed in more detail in Chapter 4). However, racially minoritized (Adukia et al., 2021) and female characters are underrepresented in children’s books (Casey, Novick, & Lourenco, 2021). These findings are important, as depictions in books provide children with cues as to what is possible for them, and the underrepresentation of certain groups serves to limit possibilities for children in those groups. Cultural context is another important dimension of language learning. Although children in all cultures hear both child-directed and adult-directed speech (also referred to as overheard Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-19 speech), the relative amounts of these kinds of input vary markedly across cultural contexts. On average, for example, 65% of the language heard by young North American children aged 3–20 months is child-directed (range 17–100%), with this percentage increasing with increasing maternal education (Bergelson et al., 2019). Moreover, research found no significant change in the amount of child-directed speech over this age range, but a decrease in adult-directed speech. In contrast, some children in certain cultural contexts (e.g., Mayan cultures in Mexico) hear much less child-directed speech compared with children in the United States. A longitudinal study compared the amount of child- and adult-directed speech heard by Yucatec Mayan children growing up in rural villages in southern Mexico and urban American children during the second and third years of life. At 13 months of age, only 21% of utterances heard by the Mayan children heard were child-directed, compared with 69% for 14-month U.S. children. By 35 months of age, however, 60% of the speech heard by the Mayan children was child-directed, compared with 62% for the U.S. children at 30 months (Shneidman & Goldin-Meadow, 2012). This convergence in the amount of child-directed speech by 3 years of age may reflect that by this time, adults in both cultures consider children to be conversational partners. Despite these differences in exposure to child-directed speech in different cultural contexts, there is evidence that children who hear less child-directed speech achieve language milestones, including first words and first word combinations, at the same age as U.S. children who hear more child-directed speech, supporting the resilience of language development (Casillas et al., 2020). This may be the case because children hearing low amounts of child- directed speech increase their attention to adult-directed speech, or because child-directed speech occurs in routine contexts with many repetition—in other words, in bursts—which makes it more interpretable by young children. Hypotheses put forward to explain how children in environments with little child-directed speech achieve language milestones at about the same ages as children who hear large amounts of child-directed speech include its burstiness and children’s increasing their attentiveness to other-directed speech (Casillas et al., 2020; Schwab & Lew-Williams, 2016). Although early language milestones are resilient, and children in diverse cultural contexts become fluent speakers of the language(s) to which they are exposed, there is also evidence that child-directed speech is more closely related to vocabulary size than is overheard speech in and across disparate cultural contexts. This is likely the case because child-directed speech focuses on aspects of the world to which children are attending, and that they therefore are more likely to understand (Schneidman et al., 2013). Nonetheless, and importantly, it is possible that learning language in contexts in which overheard speech predominates may build important strengths having to do with the deployment of attentional capacities (e.g., Casillas et al., 2020). Mathematics Learning Building on core knowledge about number and space, children’s mathematical thinking and skills grow rapidly during the preschool years. Moreover, children’s mathematical knowledge at kindergarten entry is related to long-term learning trajectories in mathematics, as well as academic achievement more broadly (Claessens, Duncan, & Engel, 2009; Duncan et al., 2007; Watts et al., 2014; Watts et al., 2018). These relations hold after controlling for other likely predictors of mathematics achievement, including socioeconomic status, which underscores the Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-20 importance of gaining greater understanding of young children’s mathematics learning and how to support it. Broadly, early mathematical skills include numerical skills, spatial skills, understanding of patterns, and understanding of data and measurement (NRC, 2009). Within the numerical domain, children typically learn the count list and how to use it to enumerate the number of objects in a set. Notably, during the preschool years, children gain an understanding of key counting principles, including (1) the one-one principle (each item should be tagged by a count word once and only once), (2) the stable-order principle (count words must be ordered in the same sequence each time a count is carried out, (3) the cardinal principle (the number word used to tag the last item is the summary symbol for the set size, (4) the abstraction principle (any set can be counted), and (5) the order-irrelevance principle (the items in a set can be tagged in any order) (Gelman & Galistel, 1978). They also gain the ability to order sets, to compare the magnitude of sets, to compose and decompose sets, and to carry out simple calculations (e.g., Clements & Sarama, 2014; Feigenson, Dehaene, & Spelke, 2004; Fuson, 1988; Sarama & Clements, 2009; Le Corre & Carey, 2007; Litkowski et al., 2020; Wynn, 1992). Although the attainment of early mathematics skills is often viewed as being synonymous with learning numerical skills and perhaps the names of shapes, these important aspects of mathematics do not represent the entirety of children’s foundational mathematics concepts. Notably, early mathematical skills include two core areas: numerical thinking, which includes understanding whole numbers, operations, and relations; and a geometry, spatial thinking, and measurement core. Additionally, young children learn to notice relations and patterns, to reason about these relations, and to communicate their mathematical ideas (see NRC, 2009 for review). During the preschool years, for example, children gain foundational spatial skills, including the ability to categorize shapes based on their defining features; to compose and decompose shapes; to mentally manipulate shapes; and to represent relations among environmental entities, as well as the self and environmental entities (e.g., Casasola et al., 2020; Fisher et al., 2013; Hawes, Tepylo, & Moss, 2015; Levine et al., 1999; Newcombe & Huttenlocher, 2003; Pruden, Levine & Huttenlocher, 2011). Moreover, children’s numerical and spatial skills are highly related, and some researchers argue that mathematics is inherently spatial (e.g., Dehaene, 1997; Clements & Sarama, 2011; Verdine, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek & Newcombe, 2017). Teaching young children spatial skills—either mental transformation skills or visuospatial working memory skills—also leads to improvements in performance on numerical tasks (Cheng & Mix, 2014; Mix et al., 2021). Mathematical activities, both formal and informal, and “math talk” (talk about number and spatial relations) in the early home environment vary widely and are related to children’s mathematical knowledge at preschool entry and beyond (Blevins-Knabe & Musan-Miller, 1996; Casey et al., 2016; Baroody & Ginsburg, 1990; Gunderson & Levine, 2011; LeFevre et al., 2009; Levine et al., 2010; Pruden, Levine & Huttenlocher, 2012; Ramani et al., 2015; Susperreguy & Davis-Kean, 2016). The same is true in early education environments. These variations in opportunities to learn math in early education settings are related to children’s mathematical learning over the preschool year, as well as to achievement in mathematics through at least eighth grade (e.g., Claessens, Duncan, & Engle, 2009; Claessens & Engle, 2013; Duncan et al., 2007; Klibanoff et al., 2006). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-21 Beyond studies reporting correlations between mathematics learning opportunities and mathematics outcomes, several experimental studies have found that mathematics learning opportunities are causally related to preschool children’s early mathematics skills (e.g., Gibson, Gunderson & Levine, 2020; Ramani & Siegler, 2008; Siegler & Ramani, 2008). Consistent with these findings, preschool mathematics interventions have been found to lead to gains in mathematics over the school year and to higher mathematics skills as late as fifth grade (e.g., Raudenbush et al., 2020; Watts, Duncan, Clements, & Sarama, 2018). Thus, the mathematics learning opportunities young children have play an important role in their early mathematical development. Qualitative aspects of the mathematics learning opportunities young children experience are also related to their mathematics learning. For example, Gunderson and Levine (2011) found that parent number talk focused on things such as counting or labeling visible sets predicted children’s cardinal number understanding, whereas number talk referring to more abstract sets or concepts (e.g., 3 years old) did not. Additionally, in a parent-delivered number book intervention study, books focused on small set sizes (1 to 3) resulted in gains in cardinal number understanding for children who understood the meanings of only the first two number words, whereas number books focused on larger set sizes (4 to 6) did not (Gibson, Gunderson & Levine, 2020). This finding is consistent with research showing the power of scaffolding that is in the child’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky and Cole, 1978). In an experimental study, Mix and colleagues found that children’s understanding of the cardinal meanings of number words was enhanced when children were provided with the cardinal label of a set and the set was then counted, but not when the set was just labeled or just counted (Mix, Sandhofer, Moore & Russell, 2012). Another study found that when parents used a number word accompanied by a number gesture during naturalistic interactions with 14- to 58-month-old children, the children were more likely to respond with a number word, and with the correct number word, than when parents said a number word without an accompanying number gesture (Oswald, Goldin-Meadow & Levine, 2023). Further, parents’ talk about more advanced math concepts for preschoolers attending Head Start—including the cardinal value of numbers, the ordinal relations of numbers, and arithmetic—predicted children’s understanding of these more advanced concepts more than did simpler math talk consisting of counting and number identification. In addition, as for language development, actively engaging children in mathematical thinking through prompting and question asking has been found to be effective way to support children’s mathematical learning (Eason, Nelson, Dearing, & Levine, 2021). These studies suggest that beyond the quantity of mathematics learning experiences, the quality also matters. Given the heterogeneity of young children’s mathematics knowledge, connected to variations in their opportunities to learn mathematics concepts and skills in the early home environment, teachers face an instructional challenge in supporting children’s mathematics development in early education settings. Formative assessments have the potential to play a role in helping teachers provide instruction that is tuned to children’s skill levels. To assess whether such assessment would result in positive learning results, Raudenbush et al. (2020) randomly assigned 49 classrooms serving children mainly from low-income backgrounds to a treatment or a business-as-usual control group. Teachers in the treatment classrooms implemented an Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-22 assessment–instruction system, consisting of three cycles of formative assessments linked to instructional strategies. The researchers found positive effects of the intervention on children’s foundational numerical skills, as well as their verbal comprehension skills. These findings are consistent with the positive effects found for the Building Blocks system, which encourages formative assessment, on mathematics outcomes, as well as on language and literacy (Clements & Sarama, 2008; Sarama & Clements, 2003; Sarama, Lange, Clements & Wolfe, 2012). These findings also mirror findings with elementary school children showing positive effects of this kind of approach (Connor et al., 2018; Hassrick, Raudenbush, & Rosen, 2017). Taken together, these findings suggest that young children’s mathematics learning benefits when input is tuned to their knowledge levels, and that such a focus on mathematics learning does not take away from but benefits young children’s learning of language and literacy skills. The above findings from naturalistic observations and experimental studies in laboratory, home, and school environments provide important information on effective ways to support children’s number knowledge. However, a shortcoming of this research is that it has focused mainly on middle-income families from Western cultures and countries and needs to be extended to more diverse samples. Emerging evidence, mainly from studies of older students, indicates that mathematics learning is strengthened with a culturally responsive strengths-based approach. Such an approach attends to the meaningfulness of mathematics learning activities, which increases interest in learning mathematics. This is the case both in the classrooms and in terms of engaging families in their children’s mathematics learning (e.g., Civil, Díez-Palomar, Menéndez, & Acosta-Iriqui, 2008; Hunter, Hunter, Tupouniua, & Leach, 2022). More research is needed to examine strengths-based, culturally responsive mathematics instruction with young children, although existing evidence indicates that this instructional approach is likely to be beneficial. Science and Engineering Learning Related to the view that infants and young children strive to understand their world, they are frequently characterized as “little scientists” who form intuitive theories about how physical and social aspects of their world operate. Supporting this view, by preschool age children can make inferences and predictions and carry out explorations that allow them to infer causal structures (Gopnik & Wellman, 2012; Kuhn, 2012; Sobel & LeGare; Lapidow & Walker, 2020; Shtulman & Walker, 2020). They do this by independently exploring the world (Cook et al., 2011; Lapidow & Walker, 2020), by asking discriminating questions (Chouinard et al., 2007; Ruggeri et al., 2019), and by observing others (Mills, 20213; see Shtulman & Walker, 2020, for a comprehensive review). Beyond this behavioral evidence that children’s acquisition of knowledge resembles that of scientists (Carey,2013; Gopnik, 2012), computational models and Bayesian inferencing have provided evidence that young children’s theory building and change are based on their prior understandings and the statistics of the new evidence they gather, much like the activities involved in scientific theory building (Gopnik, 2012; Gopnik & Tenenbaum, 2007; Griffiths, Sobel, Tenenbaum, & Gopnik, 2011; Xu, 2019). Of course, the intuitive theories (also referred to as folk theories) that young children construct are not identical in content or process to evidence-based scientific theories. Notably, the theories young children form are based largely on information that is perceptually available rather than on data that cannot be perceived by the senses (e.g., that matter consists of particles Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-23 or that the earth is round; that animals and plants are both living things) (e.g., Shtulman & Walker, 2020). In addition, in contrast with the process of science, young children’s theories are largely intuitive rather than explicit. As explained by Shtulman & Walker (2020), young children tend to think with a theory rather than about a theory, the latter involving meta-cognitive skills and practices such as controlling variables other than the variable of interest (Klahr & Nigam, 2004). Thus, while young children’s intuitive theories provide them with starting points for science learning, these nascent theories may even impede the learning of actual scientific theories unless knowledgeable adults provide the child with guidance (Shtulman & Walker, 2020). Of note, engagement in science and engineering learning shares many features with play- based learning, notably the involvement of agency, exploration, collaboration, and creativity. The power of guided play is also important, as well-designed curricular activities can help children explore and build on their intuitive theories more explicitly (e.g., Shtulman & Walker, 2020). A recent National Academies report provides four big ideas about early engineering and science learning in preschool through fifth grade, which are broadly applicable to learning in all domains: “(1) learning is a social and cultural process, (2) learning is a process of identity development, (3) children move through a range of cultural contexts where they learn science and engineering and variations in these contexts shape what and how children learn, and (4) learning in these disciplines is not neutral because the disciplines themselves are not neutral” (NASEM, 2022, p.53). Taking a strengths-based, culturally responsive approach to science and engineering learning in preschool environments not only helps children learn science but also helps them build identities, among which are self-concepts that include their capability to engage in science and engineering. With respect to building positive science identities, recent research shows that describing science learning actively in terms of “doing science” rather than “being a scientist” supports the interest in science of preschool girls, a group that is often negatively stereotyped in this regard (Rhodes, Leslie, Yee, & Saunders, 2019). The importance of providing science learning opportunities in preschool curricula is highlighted by recent theories suggesting that engaging in science and engineering learning benefits not only learning and interest in these domains but also learning in the language arts, social-emotional learning, and mathematics, as well as the acquisition of critical domain-general skills, including executive functioning and approaches to learning (Bustamante, Greenfield, & Nayfield, 2018). According to the above-referenced National Academies report (2022), however, despite the strong potential of science and engineering instructional activities to broadly support children’s early learning, a paucity of science and engineering instruction in preschool and early elementary school represents a missed opportunity to support young children’s curiosity about and interest in the world; to build foundational skills that are important for later learning; and to support their full participation as citizens in a democratic society, which requires problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and an ability to interpret data. The report adopts an equity approach to science learning and provides evidence that the lack of science learning opportunities is exacerbated in underresourced settings, impacting primarily underrepresented minorities and children of color (NASEM, 2022). While this finding highlights a problem, it also presents an opportunity to address inequities. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-24 Another important conclusion of the National Academies report is that science learning is not neutral, but influenced by culture and community practices (NASEM, 2022). Indeed, the problems that are highly salient to young children are influenced by their lived experiences (e.g., the issue of clean drinking water). In addition, what constitutes evidence is influenced by children’s lived experiences. By developing science and engineering instruction that relates to children’s interests and lived experiences, learning is enhanced (NASEM, 2022). There are pressing areas for research on early science and engineering education. In general, research is needed on effective ways to engage children in science and engineering learning and how to do so in culturally responsive ways. Two more specific areas highlighted in the National Academies report (NASEM, 2022) are particularly relevant to the present report. First, little is known about science and engineering learning among children with disabilities. Moreover, when children with disabilities are removed from mainstream classrooms, they may miss learning opportunities that other children experience. This is particularly the case for science and engineering instructional activities because they occur rarely compared with learning opportunities in other domains. Second, little is known about how best to engage children with particular disabilities in science learning. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRESCHOOL CURRICULUM: CULTURAL VARIATIONS IN LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES AND LEARNING As described in this chapter, a large body of evidence demonstrates that what and how young children learn are shaped by experiences and environments and therefore vary with cultural context. This phenomenon is often described in the literature as cultural learning, which is considered to be a unique feature of human learning even though it is observed to a limited extent in other species (e.g., Tomasello, Kruger, & Ratner, 1993, for a review). A well-known example is the greater focus of Western cultures on independence and the greater focus of Eastern cultures on interdependence (e.g., Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). Consistent with these cultural differences, by 4 years of age Asian children often is more to relational and American children are more objects-focused (Kuwabara & Smith, 2012; Richland et al, 2010). Importantly, different cultural contexts do not lead to better overall performance (Kuwabara & Smith, 1993). Rather, performance depends on the overlap of task demands and the lived experiences of children growing up in different contexts. For example, Kuwabara and Smith (2013) found that Japanese children outperformed American children when the task involved matching relations, whereas American children outperformed Japanese children when the task involved object search. These findings support a strengths-based approach to understanding and valuing cultures and the experiences they afford for learning. This approach represents an important step forward compared with the deficit view of cultures that differ from “mainstream” American cultures, which reflect Euro-centric, largely White cultural values and practices. Accumulating research shows that strengths-based approaches, such as culturally and linguistically relevant pedagogy, have positive effects on children’s learning (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2014). Thus, there is an urgent need for culturally responsive, antibias pedagogy based on the increasing cultural and Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-25 linguistic diversity of the children being taught in the United States, including in early childhood education settings (see Chapter 5). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching increases learning, belongingness, and the meaningfulness of the learning process for all children. Additionally, it increases family engagement in children’s learning, which is associated with children’s higher achievement (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2014). Theorists also warn, however, that characterizing individuals, including young children, based on their membership in particular cultural/racial/ethnic groups poses its own dangers. It is important to recognize that the lived experiences of individuals within and across cultural groups vary, and it is these variations that influence what children know and how they learn (Gutiérrez & Rogoff, 2023; Rogoff, 2016). Further, cultures shift dynamically over time. Notably, immigrant families in the United States are exposed to cultural and linguistic practices that are prevalent in this country and are likely to change their lived experiences across generations (Gutiérrez & Rogoff, 2023). Rogoff, Dahl, and Callanan (2018) call for a paradigm shift in studying children’s developmental learning based on the fact that all children learn through their everyday experiences embedded within cultural contexts. In the United States, moreover, many children experience a variety of cultural contexts, which they navigate and integrate. Thus, it is essential to recognize and understand young children’s lived experiences and not limit their learning experiences in early education settings based on stereotypes about their cultural or linguistic groups. Doing so entails celebrating, discussing, and incorporating the diversity of experiences, languages, and cultures that children bring to the early education setting and to the implementation of curricula. CONCLUSION The early childhood period represents a widow of opportunity for development and learning. Because neuroplasticity is heightened, specific skills and abilities are more readily absorbed and learned during the preschool period. Pre-K experiences may therefore have a particularly important impact on developmental trajectories and provide opportunities to build strong foundational skills more efficiently than is the case later in development. Conversely, when opportunities for environmental stimulation and expected experiential inputs are missed, the early years can be a period of unique vulnerability and alter developmental trajectories in a way that may lead to learning challenges throughout the life course. Drawing on the science of early childhood development and learning, the committee summarizes the following core concepts that are critical for informing the development of preschool curricula: • The interaction of the brain, biology, and environments shapes early childhood development and learning. • The early caregiving environment, exposure to trauma and stress, and access to resources affect long-term development. • Children learn in multiple ways—through active exploration; through observation of others, notably older children and adults; and through adults’ explicitly sharing knowledge with them. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

THE SCIENCE OF EARLY LEARNING AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT 3-26 • Children learn from play, exploration, and pedagogy that are responsive to their interests. Children’s play has the potential to contribute to the cultural relevance of early education, as child-initiated play reflects children’s cultural experiences and how they see themselves within the larger society, providing teachers with an important lens into understanding their lived experiences. • Young children play an important role in their interactions and development and are active participants in sharing knowledge. Autonomy-granting, play-based pedagogy in early education builds advanced language and thinking skills as well as skills that involve pursuing learning in which young children are interested and collaborating and conversing with other children. Limiting children’s agency in early education contexts is typically rooted in stereotypes about weaknesses of children and their families, rather than being attributed to systemic factors that contribute to group differences, such as differences in vocabulary size. These core concepts from the literature point to the need for a strengths-based approach to understanding and valuing cultures and the experiences they afford for learning. Variations in the lived experiences of children influence what children know and how they learn, as all children learn through their environments and experiences, which are embedded within cultural contexts. Accordingly, celebrating, discussing, and incorporating this diversity of experiences and cultures within early education settings is critical to promoting positive early development and learning and setting young children on a positive trajectory for lifelong learning. REFERENCES Acevedo-Garcia, D., Noelke, C., McArdle, N., Sofer, N., Huntington, N., Hardy, E., Huber, R., Baek, M., & Reece, J. (2020). The Geography of Child Opportunity: Why Neighborhoods Matter for Equity. Waltham, MA.: Brandeis University, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Adair, J. K. (2015). The impact of discrimination on the early schooling experiences of children from immigrant families. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Adair, J. K., & Colegrove, K. S.-S. (2021). Segregation by experience: Agency, racism, and learning in the early grades (p. 214). The University of Chicago Press. Adair, J. K., & Doucet, F. (2014). The impact of race and culture on play in early childhood classrooms. In The SAGE Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood (pp. 354-365). SAGE Publications Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473907850.n30 Adair, J. K., Colegrove, K. S. S., & McManus, M. E. (2017). How the word gap argument negatively impacts young children of Latinx immigrants' conceptualizations of learning. Harvard Educational Review, 87(3), 309-334. Adukia, A., Eble, A. & Harrison, E. & Runesha, H. & Szasz, T. (2021). What We Teach About Race and Gender: Representation in Images and Text of Children's Books. SSRN Electronic Journal. 10.2139/ssrn.3901587. Aguiar, A., & Baillargeon, R. (1999). 2.5-Month-Old Infants’ Reasoning About When Objects Should and Should Not Be Occluded. Cognitive Psychology, 39(2), 116–157. https://doi.org/10.1006/cogp.1999.0717 Alloway, T.P. & Alloway, R.G. (2010). Investigating the predictor roles of working memory and academic achievement, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 106(1), 20-29. 10.1016/j.jecp.2009.11.003 Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

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A high-quality preschool education can foster critical development and learning that promotes joyful, affirming, and enriching learning opportunities that prepare children for success in school and life. While preschool programs generally provide emotionally supportive environments, their curricula often fall short in advancing learning in math, early literacy, and science, and lack the necessary support for multilingual learners emerging bilingualism. Additionally, access to high-quality, effective early learning experiences may be limited and inadequate based on factors such as a childs race, location, gender, language, identified disability, and socioeconomic status.

A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum examines preschool curriculum quality for children from ages three to five, with special attention to the needs of Black and Latine children, multilingual learners, children with disabilities and children experiencing poverty in the United States. The report articulates a vision for high-quality preschool curricula for all children, grounded in an equity and justice-oriented principles from inception to implementation and evaluation.

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