About Tools of the Mind
Tools of the Mind is a research-based program combining transformational early childhood pedagogy with an innovative curriculum that helps young children to develop the cognitive, social-emotional, self-regulatory, and foundational academic skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. Currently, Tools of the Mind has two complementary modules: one designed to be used with children aged 3–4 in pre-K and preschool settings, and the other designed for kindergarten. Between public and private preschools and kindergartens, as well as Head Start programs, Tools of the Mind is currently serving over 30,000 children. The types of programs that implement Tools vary widely and are representative of the many different types of school settings available to students in the United States. Tools classrooms run the gamut, from small rural school districts to large urban ones, including Washington DC, and from elite private schools to publicly funded programs serving children from low-resource families.
A Tools classroom looks, sounds, and feels radically different from the typical pre-K or kindergarten classroom:
- Tools changes the way the classroom is managed.
Tools emphasizes teaching children various strategies they can use to regulate themselves and each other, instead of reinforcing them only for following the teacher’s directions. As a result, children quickly become able to independently manage classroom routines, think for themselves, and problem solve. Tools students rarely get into fights or arguments. Teachers discover they no longer have use for “time out chairs” or “sticker charts” as tools for classroom management.
- Tools changes the way that children of different abilities are integrated into the classroom.
Children progress at their own pace, along their individual developmental trajectories. This is made possible by ongoing assessment and individualized scaffolding that allows instruction to be tailored to help each child reach his or her academic potential. Tools of the Mind is designed in such a way that both children who are developing typically and those who have special needs can be engaged in the same activity, although they may perform tasks within the activity that have different levels of difficulty. This design capitalizes on the power of peer scaffolding and helps to create and maintain the sense of classroom community, which is beneficial for children of all abilities.
- Tools changes the way children are taught skills and then practice those skills.
Children are taught skills in a meaningful context so that their motivation and engagement are maximized. Children practice skills with self-correcting materials and are taught how to identify and reflect on mistakes in their own work, as well as in the work of their friends. Games and other kinds of “playful learning” are not used as entertainment; rather, they are carefully designed to promote mastery of specific skills and knowledge.
- Tools changes the way children interact with each other.
Tools teachers plan paired and group activities in such a way that each child becomes, at some point, a study buddy or a play partner to everyone in the classroom. Children are explicitly taught how to give each other constructive feedback, how to praise and encourage their partners, and how to interact with their friends who have different abilities. As a result, negative social interactions, such as bullying, rarely occur. Children learn not only the skills important for later social adjustment, but also how to behave as a study buddy and how to learn in a cooperative manner.
- Tools changes the role of make-believe play in the early childhood classroom.
Tools teachers use make-believe play as the primary vehicle to foster self-regulation by creating themes and helping children learn how to plan scenarios that build and change as the play progresses; how to make pretend props; and how to change roles. As children progress from make-believe play in preschool to literature-based dramatization in kindergarten, they build background knowledge about their community and the world, master complex vocabulary and text comprehension skills, and further develop their oral language and social skills.
Tools of the Mind gained national attention when a study published in the journal Science showed that Tools preschool children had higher levels of self-regulation than the control group who received a standard pre-K program. Since then, Tools has been featured in Nurture Shock, Brain Rules for Baby, the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, and on National Public Radio. Tools received an exemplary educational program award from the International Bureau of Education (UNESCO, 2001), and is listed among seven effective social-emotional learning programs in the 2013 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Guide.
Districts using Tools report higher levels of reading skills, lower levels of behavioral problems, higher attendance rates, and fewer children requiring special services. In addition, principals report that summer loss between kindergarten and first grade reading scores are not as great as they were in previous years. Teachers report that learning the Tools program has been transformational for them, lowering their stress and improving their efficacy. Parents have also reported renewed efficacy at home, including renewed expectations of their child going to college.