The philosophy behind Tools of the Mind is inspired by the cultural-historical theory of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. From the Vygotskian perspective, cognitive and social-emotional self-regulation are viewed as an integrated unit, rather than separate domains. This approach shapes the content and pedagogy of the Tools program.
Tools of the Mind is designed to support the development of both cognitive and social-emotion self-regulation/executive functions, which research has associated with both short- and long-term results across a number of different areas of child development and learning.
In order to be successful in school and beyond, a child has to develop social and cognitive competencies that allow him or her (1) to become a deliberate, self-regulated learner who is capable of establishing adequate social relationships with other participants in the teaching and learning process, and (2) to adopt the specific position and role of “student.” This position/role is characterized by such things as having an interest in the very process of learning, understanding the standard by which one is judged “correct,” understanding the relationship between making an effort to learn and the outcome of any given learning task, a willingness to play by school rules, a readiness to follow the teacher’s directions, and so on.
In a Tools preschool, children develop the underlying skills that lead to the ability to take this position through “playful learning” and by engaging in mature-make-believe play. In kindergarten, they begin to practice these skills. The Tools kindergarten program provides practice thinking about learning itself, through a calibrated process of making learning goals and judging whether or not they are met. Current practices often found in non-Tools early childhood classrooms ignore the importance of scaffolding children’s thinking about learning itself, and concentrate, instead, on content. These practices do not deliberately help children develop the capacity to judge whether their learning is “correct,” or more generally, whether they are meeting their own goals. In contrast, Tools of the Mind, consistent with Vygotskian pedagogy, aims to scaffold children so they can act as “masters of their own behavior.” As a result, Tools children learn and behave differently and are less dependent on common classroom and behavior management tactics, such as rewards and punishments. In turn, children’s self-regulated classroom behaviors translate into their academic success and transform the way they act at home.