Monthly Archives: March 2018

Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years

Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years

As early childhood education moves front and center in the public policy debate, more attention is being paid to early literacy. Early childhood professionals have long recognized the importance of language and literacy in preparing children to succeed in school. Early literacy plays a key role in enabling the kind of early learning experiences that research shows are linked with academic achievement, reduced grade retention, higher graduation rates and enhanced productivity in adult life. This report synthesizes the body of professional knowledge about early literacy and offers research-based recommendations.

What we know:

  • Literacy development starts early in life and is highly correlated with school achievement.
  • All of the domains of a child’s development —physical, social-emotional, cognitive, language and literacy—are interrelated and interdependent.
  • The more limited a child’s experiences with language and literacy the more likely he or she will have difficulty learning to read.
  • Key early literacy predictors of reading and school success include oral language, Alphabetic Code, and print knowledge.
  • Well-conceived standards for child outcomes, curriculum content, and teacher preparation help establish clarity of purpose and a shared vision for early literacy education.
  • Increased demands for program accountability are often heavily focused on assessments of children’s early literacy development.
  • Highly capable teachers are required to implement today’s more challenging early literacy curriculum.
  • Teacher knowledge, respect and support for the diversity of children’s families, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds are important in early literacy development.

Policy recommendations:

  • All children should have access to early childhood programs with strong literacy components that include clear adaptations for children with special needs.
  • Early literacy curricula and teaching practices should be evidence-based, integrated with all domains of learning, and understandable to staff members.
  • Early literacy standards should be established that articulate with K-12 programs and reflect consistency and continuity with overall program goals.
  • Early literacy assessment should use multiple methods and use the information to improve both teaching and the total preschool program.
  • Standards for early childhood professionals should require staff to meet early literacy instructional standards.
  • Parent involvement programs should have a strong early literacy component that guides parents and caregivers in providing early literacy experiences at home.
  • Support for English Language Learners should be specified and provided in both the home language and English where feasible.

A growing body of evidence shows that early learning experiences are linked with later school achievement, emotional and social well-being, fewer grade retentions, and reduced incidences of juvenile delinquency and that these outcomes are all factors associated with later adult productivity.1 Other research has identified key predictors for reading and school success.

An analysis of the research literature indicates specific skills and abilities of children ages birth through 5 years that predict later reading outcomes.

2Key predictive skills and abilities include:

  • Oral language
    listening comprehension, oral language vocabulary
  • Alphabetic Code
    alphabet knowledge, phonological/ phonemic awareness (the ability to discriminate sounds in words), invented spelling
  • Print Knowledge/Concepts
    environmental print, concepts about print

Other less significant indicators include: Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN); visual memory; and visual perceptual abilities.

How young children acquire early literacy and its oral language foundation has gained the attention of educators and policymakers. Research establishes four major principles of early literacy acquisition:

Oral language is the foundation for literacy development.

Oral language provides children with a sense of words and sentences and builds sensitivity to the sound system so that children can acquire phonological awareness and phonics. Through their own speech children demonstrate their understanding of the meanings of words and written materials.

Supporting evidence

  • Children reared in families where parents provide rich language and literacy support do better in school than those who do not. Languagepoor families are likely to use fewer different words in their everyday conversations and the language environment is more likely to be controlling and punitive.3
  • Exposure to less common, more sophisticated vocabulary (rare words) at home relates directly to children’s vocabulary acquisition. Rare words are those that go beyond the typical 8,500 most common words in the English language.4
  • There is a strong relationship between vocabulary development and reading achievement. Understanding the meanings of words is critical to understanding what a child reads. Good readers combine a variety of strategies to read words. Even when children have strong familiarity with the alphabetic code, they frequently meet words for which the pronunciation is not easily predictable.

Children who acquire strong vocabularies increase their ability to make sense of what a word might be while using what they know about phonics.5

Children’s experiences with the world greatly influence their ability to comprehend what they read.

Reading involves comprehending written texts.What children bring to a text influences the understandings they take away and the use they make of what is read.

Supporting evidence

  • Background knowledge about the world is built from a child’s experiences.
  • The more limited a child’s experiences the more likely he or she will have difficulty comprehending what is read.

Learning to read and write starts long before first grade and has long-lasting effects.

Learning to read and write is an ongoing process from infancy. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade. From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children’s language and literacy is critical.

Supporting evidence

  • Language and literacy develop concurrently and influence one another. What children learn from listening and talking contributes to their ability to read and write and vice versa. For example, young children’s phonological awareness (ability to identify and make oral rhymes, identify and work with syllables in spoken words, and the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds— phonemes—in spoken words) is an important indicator of their potential success in learning to decode print. Early vocabulary development is an important predictor of success in reading comprehension. Both phonological awareness and vocabulary development begin early with participation in rhyming games and chants, shared book experiences, and extended conversations with adults.6
  • Children who fall behind in oral language and literacy development in the years before formal schooling are less likely to be successful beginning readers; and their achievement lag is likely to persist throughout the primary grades and beyond.7
  • Responsive adults have a special role in supporting children’s ongoing, self-generated learning. Instructional support that relies on the accumulation of isolated skills is not sufficient. Teaching children to apply their knowledge and skills in meaningful situations has a significantly greater effect on their ability to learn to read.8

Children’s experiences with books and print greatly influence their ability to comprehend what they read.9

Reading with adults, looking at books independently, and sharing reading experiences with peers are some of the ways that children experience books.

Supporting evidence

  • Knowledge about print is built from children’s experiences with books and other written materials.
  • Shared book reading experiences have a special role in fostering early literacy development by building background knowledge about the world and concepts about books and print.10

Although the abundance of research evidence supports the need for attention to early literacy and its oral language foundations, it also raises essential questions about how early childhood programs can foster the skills and abilities young children need to become successful readers and writers and how reading difficulties can be prevented. The answers to these essential questions involve consideration of the following five important and related issues:

  1. early literacy learning standards
  2. curriculum
  3. accountability and assessment
  4. teacher education and professional development
  5. home-school connections

Those charged with the responsibility for early childhood education must carefully consider each of these issues.

Issue 1: Developing and using early literacy learning standards

The growing trend to generate standards for early childhood education may be the best indication of a felt need to specify curriculum content and child outcomes for early education programs. Kendall and Marzano offer at least three principal reasons for the development and use of standards: to establish clarity of curriculum content, to raise expectations for the achievement of all children, and to ensure accountability for public education.11 It has only been in recent years, however, that the field of early education has been a part of the standards movement.12

One national effort to produce early language and literacy standards is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Accreditation Performance Criteria for early childhood programs. These standards provide guidelines for the content that children are learning, the planned activities linked to these goals, the daily schedule and routines and the availability and use of materials for children.

Because oral language and literacy are so highly interrelated, the National Center on Education and the Economy produced a comprehensive standards document on speaking and listening for preschool through third grade to accompany a previously published document that only focused on standards for reading and writing.13

Each topic is described in terms of real life settings with implications for instruction and applications to different cultures and linguistic settings. In addition to national efforts, individual states have embraced the standards movement. In 2005, 43 states report having early childhood standards, which is a substantial increase over the past few years.14Specifically, the standards include oral language development, phonological awareness, print knowledge and use, and writing.Many of them also specify criteria for teaching and program structure.

It is critical to develop standards wisely and with caution. In a joint policy statement on early learning standards NAEYC and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) describe the risks and benefits of early learning standards.15 They caution that a major risk of any standards movement is that the responsibility for meeting the standards will be placed on children’s shoulders rather than on the shoulders of those who should provide opportunities and supports for learning. They suggest that culturally and linguistically diverse children, as well as children with disabilities, may be at heightened risk. Nevertheless, they conclude that clear, research-based expectations for the content and desired results of early learning experiences can help focus curriculum and instruction and increase the likelihood of later positive outcomes.

Issue 2: The early literacy focus of effective curriculum

Although most educators and policy makers agree that a strong start in early literacy is critical, there is less agreement about how this is best accomplished. A major concern is ensuring that the curriculum addresses the overall learning and growth of the young child by continuing to stress the physical, social, emotional, and overall cognitive development of children and at the same time, strengthening the academic curriculum. Some express concern about what they perceive as an over-emphasis on early literacy and the creation of a curriculum imbalance. They caution against early literacy curricula that focus too narrowly on literacy skills and neglect consideration for all the domains of development that interact to promote children’s personal and academic growth. Indeed, the physical, social, emotional, cognitive and language development of young children are actually major factors that influence early literacy development.16

Evidence-based practice and the early literacy curriculum

In the area of literacy, both federal and state expectations have emphasized evidence-based practice to guide curriculum adoption and the evaluation of curriculum effectiveness. Evidence must be grounded in scientifically based research, a term used across a variety of fields that requires the application of systematic and objective procedures to obtain information to address important questions in a particular field. It is an attempt to ensure that those who use the research can have a high degree of confidence that it is valid and dependable. Whether a curriculum is homegrown or commercially prepared, those who develop and use it are expected to support their claims with a research base. Key components of an early literacy curriculum grounded in evidence- based early literacy research include: (1) oral language development, which includes vocabulary and listening; (2) an understanding of the alphabetic code, which includes phonological/phonemic awareness and knowledge of the alphabet; and (3) knowledge and understanding about print and its use.

Key components of the early literacy curriculum

Oral Language. Oral language develops concurrently with literacy development, and it includes listening comprehension, verbal expression, and vocabulary development. Oral language development is facilitated when children have many opportunities to use language in interactions with adults and each other and when they listen and respond to stories. Young children build vocabulary when they engage in activities that are cognitively and linguistically stimulating by encouraging them to describe events and build background knowledge.

Alphabetic Code. English is an alphabetic language, which means that the letters we use to write represent the sounds of the language that we speak. Knowledge of the alphabet letters and phonological awareness (the ability to distinguish the sounds within words) form the basis of early decoding and spelling ability, and both are correlated with later reading and spelling achievement. Young children can learn to name letters and to distinguish them from each other. They can also begin to develop an awareness of the constituent sounds within words, such as syllables, rhymes and phonemes.

Children should be immersed in language-rich environments in order to develop phonological awareness and similarly, it would be difficult to master the ABCs without lots of exposure to the alphabet (in books, on blocks, on refrigerator magnets, in cereal, in soup, in attempts to write, in having their messages written for them, etc.). Knowledge of the ABCs and phonological awareness do not usually just happen from exposure for most children, however. Parents, teachers, and older siblings often intentionally teach children the alphabet, and studies have shown that it is possible to teach phonological awareness to preschoolers and kindergarten children in ways that do not interfere with a comprehensive and rich curriculum focus but do improve later literacy.17

Print Knowledge and Use. Making sense of print involves an awareness and understanding of environmental print and an understanding of concepts of print, such as where to begin to read a book or a page and in what direction to read. Each of these is likely learned from interacting with others around print. An early literacy curriculum might include grocery store visits; being read to on a daily basis; having a writing center where children can experiment with written communication, and environmental print that is purposeful such as functional signs, labels and charts. In addition, effective early literacy teachers model the reading and writing processes during shared reading and writing. They explicitly comment aloud about what they are thinking as they read and write so as to make the process transparent to children.

The literacy curriculum as a program for prevention and intervention

Studies of the relationship between early literacy development and school achievement have had a profound impact on the early literacy curriculum as an intervention process for children considered to be at risk for failure. Risk factors include exhibiting a developmental disability (e.g. oral language impairment, mental retardation, hearing impairment), having a parent with a history of a reading disability, speaking a language or dialect that differs from the local academic curriculum, and/or living in a household in which experiences with oral and written language are infrequent.18 For children in such circumstances, a preventive intervention may be required to encourage timely attainment of the skills and abilities needed for later school readiness and achievement.

The key curriculum components are viewed as standard or essential elements of instruction for all children. Nevertheless, children vary in how well any “basic” curriculum will serve them. They differ in what they bring to the preschool setting and what they gain from it. Some children enter preschool having had the advantage of an abundance of experiences with books and other written materials, visiting interesting places, engaging in creative problem-solving and play, and participating in thought-provoking conversations and activities that serve to expand their general knowledge and intellectual development. For these children, both their linguistic and experiential backgrounds prepare them to benefit from a curriculum that reinforces and expands the rich reservoir of skills and knowledge these children possess. Other children need more, different, or specifically targeted learning opportunities in preschool. Skillful teachers, and the specialists who advise them, make adjustments within the framework of the curriculum to make instruction more responsive to student needs.

Issues related to a child’s linguistic and cultural background represent a continuing and growing challenge for early literacy educators and curriculum developers. Latinos, for example, are now the largest minority group in the country—a group that is growing at a faster rate than the population as a whole.19 Even for many Englishspeaking children, the school language (or dialect) and culture may differ greatly from that of their homes. Teachers of young children need to keep in mind that a child’s prekindergarten classroom may be the first setting of sustained contact with a new culture and will help set the stage for early success or failure with formal schooling.20 Effective educators seek to learn as much as they can about the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the children.Whenever practical, programs specifically focus on the development of both English and the child’s home language. In general, the curriculum is implemented in ways that foster respect for what children bring to the learning situation and provide continuity between the child’s experiences at home and those within the early childhood program.

Class size and teacher-pupil ratio are related to how well teachers meet the demand for high quality. The strongest evidence that preschool programs can produce large educational benefits for economically disadvantaged children comes from studies in which programs had both highly capable teachers and relatively small groups of children.21

Issue 3: Accountability and assessment

Measuring children’s early literacy development is an important part of a comprehensive early childhood program. Assessment is used to measure development and learning, to guide teacher and program planning and decision making, to identify children who might benefit from special services, and to report to and communicate with others.22 In addition to the ongoing, day-by-day systematic observations that link closely to the early childhood curriculum, there is a growing trend toward child assessment for program accountability. These assessments, in which early literacy is often a major component, reflect an increasingly high-stakes climate in which programs are required to demonstrate effectiveness in improving school readiness and creating positive child outcomes.

Concerns about trends in early literacy assessment include the use of assessments that focus on a limited range of skills and the nature of the assessments in use. Both factors may cause teachers to narrow their curriculum and teaching practices, especially when the stakes are high. For example, the ability to name the letters of the alphabet is usually assessed in a decontextualized manner in which the child is asked to name each letter as it is presented, one at a time. Unfortunately, this can lead to teaching in which the letters of the alphabet are presented in a discrete and decontextualized manner apart from children’s names or the application of that knowledge to other meaningful print.

Although children may be capable of naming letters in a robotic-like, rote memorization manner, they may fail to acquire the long-term goal— an understanding of how the letters function for reading and writing and the ability to use what they know to make sense of the print in their environment.

Issue 4: Teacher education and professional development

The need for highly capable teachers is a constant theme in the literature on early childhood education. This is particularly true in the area of early literacy. National reports and government mandates have raised expectations for the formal education and training of early childhood teachers, especially in Head Start and in statefunded prekindergarten programs.23Today’s early childhood teachers are expected to implement a more challenging and effective curriculum in language and literacy and to assess and document progress in increasingly complex ways.24 Rising expectations coupled with an expanding number of early childhood programs have led to a major crisis in staffing, both in terms of the number of early childhood teachers and in the quality of their preparation. In response, several states have established P-3 (prekindergarten through third grade) certification programs and launched incentive efforts to encourage teachers and caregivers to upgrade and expand their knowledge and skills.

Whether pre-service or in-service, the demands regarding what early childhood teachers need to know and do have changed dramatically. Described in broad terms, teachers of young children need to know the importance of oral language competencies, early literacy experiences and family literacy in learning to read. They need to be able to foster a wide range of language and literacy related dispositions and competencies, including a love of literacy and the development of vocabulary, oral language abilities, phonological awareness, and print-related knowledge. They must be able to use a variety of instructional methods that are age and developmentally appropriate and have the ability to adjust those methods to the specific needs of individuals. They must be skilled in the ability to use multiple methods of monitoring children’s literacy development and interpreting assessments in order to make sound instructional decisions.

In order to develop the competencies of the type listed above, schools of education must provide pre-service programs that are grounded in current scientific knowledge about how children learn to read and write and the best instructional practices to help them learn. Obviously, it is not possible to offer prospective teachers all the knowledge they need in a preservice program. Like other professional fields, the knowledge base for learning and teaching is strengthened as new knowledge is gained and meshed with old. A fairly recent and promising effort designed to address this issue is the appointment of literacy coaches to the instructional team of teachers, directors and other support staff. Literacy coaches are teachers with special expertise and training, who provide continuing support and guidance to classroom teachers in order to improve classroom instruction. Thus, teacher education is viewed as an ongoing process involving rigorous pre-service training and experiential opportunities along with continued professional development.

Issue 5: Home-school connections

The link between supportive parental involvement and children’s early literacy development is well established. Snow et. al. and others have shown that children from homes, where parents model the uses of literacy and engage children in activities that promote basic understandings about literacy and its uses, are better prepared for school.25 Several national efforts such as Reading is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read have focused with some success on getting books into the hands of parents and children and promoting regular parentchild book reading. Tabors, Snow, and these have evidently worked to some extent, citing national surveys showing an increase in parent-child literacy activities among families with preschoolers.26Unfortunately, the increases among families considered to be at greater risk lagged behind that of other families. These researchers recommend that efforts to promote shared reading with children go beyond giving books to families to include suggestions for how parents might engage in these activities to promote conversation and dialogue. They go further to suggest that it is not the frequency of book reading accompanies book reading alone that is related to children’s language and literacy abilities, but the broader pattern of parent-child activities and interactions that support children’s language and literacy development. The challenge to get the message across to all parents, particularly to low-income and low-education parents, that everyday activities of all sorts, accompanied by interesting talk with lots of new vocabulary words, can play an important part in their children’s language and literacy development.27


The policy recommendations offered in this brief emanate from basic understandings and findings from the research on early literacy. Literacy development starts early in life and is highly correlated with school achievement. All the domains of a child’s development, including literacy, are interrelated and interdependent. The more limited a child’s experiences with language and literacy, the more likely he or she will have difficulty learning to read.

Well-conceived standards for child outcomes, curriculum content, and teacher preparation help establish clarity of purpose and a shared vision for early literacy education. Early literacy curricula and teaching practices should be evidence-based, integrated with all domains of learning. States and districts should establish standards for early literacy that are articulated with K-12 programs and reflect consistency and continuity with overall program goals. At the same time, programs should be designed to provide comprehensive support for all children, including English Language Learners.

In many instances, this may require major changes in policies involving standards and accountability for children, programs and the professionals responsible for them. Competent leadership in the policy arena is essential. As Roskos and Vukelich aptly state, “What early literacy policy accomplishes in the next decades depends not only on the structures placed on and in settings and programs, but also on the people who act on those structures to create patterns of activity that can either advance, resist or stall change.”28

This Preschool Policy Brief was published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, April 2006. Reprinted with permission.

Pot of Gold Paper Craft

Younger children will find this a very easy craft to make.  The shape has big, bold lines with relatively few curves which should make it easier for preschoolers to cut out on their own.

very simple pot of gold template

You can choose between the full page template (one pot on the page) or the half page template (two pots on one page).


  • scissors,
  • glue,
  • Printer (we used construction paper)
  • paper
  • Optional:  gold and/or silver foil (old wrapping paper works very well)  We’ve provided a template you can use for the coins instead, but the kids do like to work with the shiny foil if you have it!
  • Optional:  something to color with or sparkle glue


  • Print out the craft template of choice.
  • Colour (where appropriate) and cut out the template pieces.
  • Cut out circles of gold and/or silver foil or print and cut out the coin template provided.
  • Optional:  Decorate the pot and/or coins with sparkle glue.
  • Hang on the fridge!

Craft Templates:

  • Close the template window after printing to return to this screen.
  • Set page margins to zero if you have trouble fitting the template on one page (FILE, PAGE SETUP or FILE, PRINTER SETUP in most browsers).

Template 1 – Full sized Pot (1 per page)   (color)   or   (B&W)

Template 2 – 1/2 sized Pot (2 per page)   (color)   or   (B&W)

Template 3 – coins   (color)   or   (B&W)

Paper Plate Leprechaun Craft

Paper Plate Leprechaun

This leprechaun craft uses a printable template and a paper plate to make a St. Patrick’s Day craft or mask.

If you cut out holes instead of using the template eyes, you can convert your leprechaun craft to a leprechaun mask.  Attach a paint stir stick or tongue depressor to allow your child to hold it up to their face.

You may also like the no template version of our paper plate leprechaun.


  • paper plate.
  • something to color with (or color printer).
  • scissors,
  • glue,
  • paper,
  • printer,
  • Optional:  pink, light green or light orange paint and paint brush.
  • Optional:  You can substitute large wiggly eyes for the template eyes.
  • OPTIONAL FOR MASK:  Paint Stir Stickcrafts, thin strip of wood or Tongue Depressorcrafts.


  • Paint the bottom of the paper plate flesh coloured (leprechaun flesh could be many colours like pink, brown, light orange or light green) or you can leave your plate white.
  • Print out the craft template of choice.
  • Colour (where appropriate) and cut out the template pieces.  Most of the pieces are simple enough shapes for young children to cut out, but if needed, an adult can help with some of the harder pieces (the hair).
  • Glue the pieces to the plate to make a leprechaun face:
    • Glue the hair on the top of the paper plate.
    • Glue the hat onto the hair.
    • Glue the ears onto either side of the plate.
    • Glue the bowtie at the bottom of the plate.
    • Glue the mouth at the bottom of the plate just above the bowtie.
    • Glue the nose just above the mouth.
    • Glue the eyes just above the nose (or cut out holes for eyes in a mask).
    • Glue the eyebrows above the eyes.



Contributed by Leanne Guenther

Leprechaun Bait


St. Patrick's Day Leprechaun Bait Snack Mix


  • 12 oz white candy melts
  • 6 oz green candy melts
  • 3 cups popped popcorn
  • 3 cups mini pretzel twists
  • 3 cups Crispix cereal
  • 4 cups Lucky Charms (limited edition clovers)
  • 10.5 oz bag mint M&M’s
  • St. Patrick’s Day sprinkles (or you can also use green & white jimmies)



Mix your popcorn, cereal, 3/4 of M&M’s, and pretzels in a large bowl…

Melt your white candy melts according to the package direction. Pour the melted chocolate over the snack mix…

Stir until fully coated…

Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper and spread the mixture evenly like this…

Melt your green candy melts according to the directions and spoon the melted chocolate over the mixture like this…

Now add your sprinkles…

You will want to work quickly because the chocolate dries pretty fast. Let that sit for 10-15 minutes. Then break it off into pieces and place them in a large bowl.

The worst part about making this….you won’t be able to stop eating it! Here is a close up…

St. Patrick's Day Leprechaun Bait Snack Mix


©2018. Courtesy American Montessori Society. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

With support from the Self Family Foundation and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, the Riley Institute at Furman University has completed a five-year study of Montessori education in South Carolina’s public schools. Showing evidence of positive impact on students, it is the most comprehensive study of public Montessori programs ever conducted in the United States.

Researchers used existing student record databases maintained by the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) to examine standardized test performance, discipline and attendance. Going beyond existing data, researchers directly assessed students to measure other variables such as executive function and creativity.“With the exception of California, there are more public Montessori programs in South Carolina than in any other state in the country,” said Brooke Culclasure, the study’s principal investigator. “We wanted to explore how this growing method impacts students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and teachers.”

“Sometimes people assume that Montessori is an elite approach to education for privileged students, and is only available in the private sector. The reality is the majority of Montessori students in public schools are from low-income households, and they seem to be benefiting in several ways from Montessori education,” said Culclasure.

Montessori public school students exhibited significantly more achievement growth on state standardized tests than demographically similar non-Montessori students in math, English language arts (ELA), and social studies. The results for science were mixed, as Montessori students demonstrated significantly less growth than non-Montessori students in one year (2013-14) and significantly more growth in another year (2015-16).

“The Montessori method pulls together many solid classroom strategies, all guided by the Montessori philosophy of how children develop and learn. This method stands out among other education approaches by combining multi-age classes, a hands-on curriculum and individualized learning, making the classroom ‘success oriented’ for all students,” said Ginny Riga, Montessori consultant for the S.C. Department of Education who contributed to the study.

The benefits of Montessori extend beyond academic achievement, as Montessori students also demonstrated better school attendance and behavior.

Montessori students generally perform similar to or better than non-Montessori students on assessments of executive function, which encompasses abilities such as emotional control, planning and organization, and self-monitoring. There were no consistent differences between the two groups on work habits or social skills. Montessori students demonstrated significantly higher levels of creativity than non-Montessori students.

“This evaluation provides evidence that public Montessori programs are having a positive impact on students,” said Don Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute. “Despite factors that traditionally produce disparities in education, Montessori students are performing well. States and districts can use this kind of information as they decide which teaching methodologies are appropriate in which settings.”

Researchers also surveyed public Montessori teachers. Most teachers reported they loved their jobs and planned to remain in the profession.

“This finding of high teacher satisfaction is so significant, because we are experiencing a low teacher satisfaction rate and a teacher shortage in South Carolina,” said Melanie Barton, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee. “Focusing on education models that are good for students and good for teachers could help us attract and retain the talent we need to lead our classrooms.”

However, teachers did report some difficulty teaching the competency-based, Montessori model, in which progress is generally measured by teacher observation.

“The most common method used by districts and schools for testing student progress is standardized tests rather than the teacher observation used in authentic Montessori programs,” said Riga. “It can be difficult for teachers to reconcile the two.”

Some teachers also expressed some concerns about authenticity of their schools’ programs.

“From the principal surveys and 126 classroom observations, we found that, on average, public school programs are implementing the Montessori model with fidelity, although there is variation regarding the extent to which different programs implement authentic Montessori,” said Culclasure.

The study is available online at

About the Riley Institute at Furman University
Furman University’s Richard W. Riley Institute broadens student and community perspectives about issues critical to South Carolina’s progress. It builds and engages present and future leaders, creates and shares data-supported information about the state’s core challenges, and links the leadership body to sustainable solutions. It is committed to nonpartisanship in all it does and to a rhetoric-free, facts-based approach to change.

Summer Ramsey, Director of Marketing
The Riley Institute at Furman University
803-354-2206 mobile


Last updated .

Top 5 Reasons Why Montessori Works

Top 5 Reasons Why Montessori Works

Posted in: educatorparent


As a Montessori parent and advocate, I can honestly say that I fell in love with Montessori at first sight. Over the years, I’ve watched my son benefit in so many ways because of his educational experiences. His love for learning, academic abilities, compassion and self-motivation are all qualities he’s attained from this superb form of learning. Here are five reasons why I think Montessori sets itself apart from other ways of learning:

1. Montessori is not a trend.

So often in education, educators jump from one trend to the next. Districts and schools spend thousands of dollars on a new math or reading program only to find two years later, there’s something better out there. Providing the “right” educational curriculum has become a constant challenge of “keeping up with the Jones’s”. Montessori schools use a philosophy and tools that have been around for over a century. Montessori schools don’t flip-flop between programs because they don’t need to. Montessori education proves to be effective regardless of whether it is in a private or public school, what country it is taught in or the socio economic status of the students. The philosophy that Maria Montessori developed many years ago still works for our kids today and I know as a parent, it works for my child as well.

2. It fosters independence.

Everything about a Montessori classroom fosters independence. You first start with the classroom that is prepared to allow the child to do for themselves what an adult would often do for a child. Enter a preprimary room and you will watch a three year old sweeping the floor with a child-sized broom, washing the dishes at a sink just their height or folding washcloths that are the right size for their hands. The pride you see in these children who are able to “do it themselves” without asking for help from an adult is incredible. A Montessori classroom provides a prepared environment where children are able to develop independence.

Materials were created to be self-correcting. Students can identify a mistake in their thinking without having an adult point it out to them. Students in a Montessori classroom then have the power to ask for help when they need it, as opposed to an adult telling the child when they need help.

Students begin to realize that they have the intelligence and ability to do things for themselves. This is not only empowering to the child, but gives them such a boost in confidence. I remember waking up many years ago to the sound of a microwave. I remember lying in bed thinking – only my four-year-old son and I are home, who could be using the microwave? I walked into the kitchen to see my son eating a steaming bowl of oatmeal. I asked him what he was doing and he told me that his teacher had taught him how to make instant oatmeal in the microwave. He got up, was hungry and decided to make himself some breakfast. Of course we then discussed how his teacher had also said an adult must supervise this process, but I was so excited that he had already become so independent at four and how confident he must have felt to take on such a task.

3. Kids grasp the idea of “why.”

I truly believe that students don’t just “lose” information over the summer because the summer is too long, I think they lose information because it’s not meaningful to them. Often in math, we expect students to understand operations but never give them the how or why. We come up with acronyms and mnemonic tools to help kids memorize the step without asking why these strategies are even necessary. Montessori allows children to understand the how and the why with materials. Students can actually see a division problem occur as he or she divides each place value. They also have the ability to practice it over and over with the materials until it makes sense to them.

4. It meets kids where they are.

One of the best benefits of Montessori is that it’s completely individualized. I never have to worry that my child is bored or frustrated to tears. He’s getting what he needs, when he needs it. In order for teachers to teach on an individual level, they must observe, mentor, mold and guide the child to his potential. As a parent, I feel better knowing that my child’s teacher knows him as an individual and not as just a second grader.

5. Learning is actually fun. (No really, it is!)

When you get to learn about botany by looking at leaf samples or learn about your favorite historical figure by dressing up as her, learning is engaging and fun. Montessori provides experiences for students to learn from. Learning doesn’t just come from lectures or listening, learning comes from doing and experiencing the world around them. Learning is real and relevant and that’s the way I want my child to learn.

Picking a school or method of education is one of the most important duties of a parent. My advice to other parents is to make a choice that will not just prepare your child for the next grade level, but will also prepare them to be a global citizen. Make the choice to put your child in a program where they will learn more than just the core subjects but also responsibility, compassion for others and self-motivation. Maria Montessori developed her philosophy because she wanted better for the world and future generations. With a little research and a tour of a Montessori school, you’ll see why Montessori works.

annAnn Pilzner‘s career in education first began at a traditional school in Detroit. In an effort to find a fantastic preschool program for her son, she stumbled upon Montessori. Ann fell in love with the philosophy and soon began teaching at his Montessori school. She later was offered the opportunity to open her own public Montessori school in Battle Creek, where she is currently the Head of School. Ann resides in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband and son.

Top 5 Reasons Why Montessori Works

Music Education

If your parents forced you to practice your scales by saying it would “build character,” they were onto something. The Washington Post reports that one of the largest scientific studies into music’s effect on the brain has found something striking: Musical training doesn’t just affect your musical ability — it provides tremendous benefits to children’s emotional and behavioral maturation.

The study by the University of Vermont College of Medicine found that even those who never made it past nursery rhyme songs and do-re-mi’s likely received some major developmental benefits just from playing. The study provides even more evidence as to why providing children with high-quality music education may be one of the most effective ways to ensure their success in life.

Source: Steve Russell/Getty Images
Source: Steve Russell/Getty Images

The study: James Hudziak and his colleagues analyzed the brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18, looking for relationships between cortical thickness and musical training. Previous studies the team had performed revealed that anxiety, depression, attention problems and aggression correspond with changes to cortical thickness. Hudziak and his team sought to discover whether a “positive activity” like musical training could affect the opposite changes in young minds.

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” Hudziak told the Washington Post, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

The study found increased thickness in parts of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes working memory, attentional control and organizational skills. In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded. Not only that, they believe that musical training could serve as a powerful treatment of cognitive disorders like ADHD.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

We need this sort of proof now more than ever. In presenting theirfindings, the authors reveal a terrifying truth about the American education system: Three-quarters of high school students “rarely or never” receive extracurricular lessons in the music or the arts. And that’s depriving kids of way more than just knowing an instrument.

School systems that don’t dedicate adequate time and resources to musical training are robbing their kids of so much. Prior research proves that learning music can help children develop spatiotemporal faculties, which then aid their ability to solve complex math. It can also help children improve their reading comprehension and verbal abilities, especially for those who speak English as a second language.

In these ways music can be a powerful tool in helping to close the achievement gaps that have plagued American schools for so long. It’s even been shown that children who receive musical training in school also tend to be more civically engaged and maintain higher grade-point averages than children who don’t. In short, musical education can address many of the systemic problems in American education.

Hudziak’s research is an important addition to the field because it shows that music helps us become better people, too. One thing is clear: Learning music is one of the best things a person can do. Who knows — running scales may have changed your life. And it could change the lives of future generations too.

h/t Washington Post

Music In Our Schools

March is music in our schools month, and what a fun month that is! Most kids love music, and many studies have been done that show music has more than just enjoyment going.

Singing and music play an important role in our culture. You’ll find music present in many aspects of our lives: theater, television, movies, worship, holidays, celebrations, and government and military ceremonies. At home, music can become part of our family culture – a natural part of our everyday experiences.

A blurry shot of a child playing the piano
From birth, parents instinctively use music to calm and soothe children, to express their love and joy, and to engage and interact. Parents can build on these natural instincts by learning how music can impact child development, improve social skills, and benefit kids of all ages.


A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. According to the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation), learning to play an instrument can improve mathematical learning and even increase SAT scores.

But academic achievement isn’t the only benefit of music education and exposure. Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness: intellectual, social and emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the body and the mind work together. Exposing children to music during early development helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words. Dancing to music helps children build motor skills while allowing them to practice self-expression. For children and adults, music helps strengthen memory skills.

In addition to the developmental benefits of music, why is music important? Simply put, it provides us with joy. Just think about listening to a good song on the car radio with the window down on a beautiful day. That’s joy.


Children of all ages express themselves through music. Playing music for infants proves that, even at an early age, children sway, bounce, or move their hands in response to music they hear. Many preschoolers make up songs and, with no self-consciousness, sing to themselves as they play. Children in elementary school learn to sing together as a group and possibly learn to play a musical instrument. Older children dance to the music of their favorite bands and use music to form friendships and share feelings. Try these activities and games with your children to experience the pleasure and learning that music brings.

Infants and Music. Infants recognize the melody of a song long before they understand the words. They often try to mimic sounds and start moving to the music as soon as they are physically able. Quiet, background music can be soothing for infants, especially at sleep time. Loud background music may overstimulate an infant by raising the noise level of the room. Sing simple, short songs to infants in a high, soft voice. Try making up one or two lines about bathing, dressing, or eating to sing to them while you do these activities. Find musical learning activities for infants.

Toddlers and Music. Toddlers love to dance and move to music. The key to toddler music is the repetition of songs, which encourages the use of words and memorization. Silly songs make them laugh. Try singing a familiar song and inserting a silly word in the place of the correct word, like “Mary had a little spider” instead of lamb. Let them reproduce rhythms by clapping or tapping objects.
Preschoolers and Music. Preschoolers enjoy singing just to be singing. They aren’t self-conscious about their ability and most are eager to let their voices roar. They like songs that repeat words and melodies, use rhythms with a definite beat, and ask them to do things. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like finger plays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.