New research from the University of British Columbia has found that kindergarten curriculums which involve more play, hands-on learning, and student cooperation are the most beneficial. This approach was found to boost self-control, attention regulation, and academic performance.
Incorporating this style of learning into the kindergarten classroom also reduced bullying and teacher burnout. Children gained more enjoyment from their learning experiences, while teachers took more pleasure in their roles as instructors.
“Before children have the ability to sit for long periods absorbing information the way it is traditionally presented in school through lectures, they need to be allowed to be active and encouraged to learn by doing,” said study lead author Dr. Adele Diamond. “Indeed, people of all ages learn better by doing than by being told.”
Dr. Diamond and her team used a randomized controlled trial to analyze the effectiveness of a curriculum called Tools of the Mind (Tools). The project involved 351 children and their teachers in 18 public schools located in Vancouver and Surrey.
The Tools curriculum was developed in 1993 based on the idea that social-emotional development and improving self-control should be prioritized as much as academic performance. The program emphasizes the role of social dramatic play in building executive functioning skills, such as selective attention, working memory, reasoning, and planning.
“Executive functioning skills are necessary for learning, and are often more strongly associated with school readiness than intelligence quotient (IQ),” said Dr. Diamond. “This trial is the first to show benefits of a curriculum emphasizing social play to executive functioning in a real-world setting.”
While previous studies have shown that Tools greatly improves reading and math skills, the current study has revealed that the program dramatically improves writing and executive functions and provides a variety of social and emotional benefits.
In classrooms where Tools was applied, teachers reported more cooperation and a greater sense of community. Kids did not form cliques in Tools classes as they did in most control classes, and Tools teachers were still energized and excited about teaching at the end of the school year.
“I have enjoyed seeing the enormous progress my students have made in writing and reading. I have never had so many students writing two or three sentences by the end of kindergarten,” said Susan Kochan, a Tools teacher in Vancouver. “I have also enjoyed seeing the students get so excited about coming to school and learning. They loved all the activities we did so much that many students didn’t want to miss school, even if they were sick.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.