Tools of the Mind® follows the Vygotskian approach to teaching. It provides activities sequenced in a developmental trajectory and scaffolds to support children based on their current levels of development. Focusing on self-regulation, the curriculum supports children's underlying cognitive skills, social-emotional school readiness, and foundational skills in literacy, mathematics, and science.
Summary of Curriculum Review
- Promotes research-based teaching practices to support children's development and learning in all Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) domains, especially in the domains of Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Language and Communication, Literacy, and Math
- Provides a range of strategies and resources to support parent and family engagement
- Offers comprehensive standardized training and materials to support implementation
- Offers ample opportunities for child-initiated play and activities that promote open-ended exploration
- Gives specific guidance to scaffold the development and learning of children who are dual language learners (DLLs)
- Includes specific adaptations for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs
- Promotes individualization based on children's strengths and needs
- Moderately aligns with the ELOF but lacks comprehensive guidance for the sub-domains of Scientific Reasoning, Problem-Solving, and Health, Safety, and Nutrition
- Lacks guidance on culturally responsive interactions with children and families
- Provides limited guidance on how to fully integrate children's and families' cultures into interactions, the learning environment, and learning experiences
Cost of Curriculum
Tools of the Mind® Manuals: $175 per teacher
Tools of the Mind®Pre-K Materials Kit: $749 per classroom
Cost of Professional Development
Costs for on-site and online professional development are not publicly available on the publisher's website.
Contact the publisher for the most updated information on costs of the curriculum and current professional development offerings.
Availability in Other Languages
Most parts of the curriculum are available in Spanish for no additional cost.
The Tools of the Mind®Pre-K Materials Kit is available in Spanish for an additional cost.
Center-based preschool programs for children 3–5 years old
Curriculum Materials Reviewed by Raters
All materials were purchased and reviewed in 2018. These materials included:
- Tools of the Mind®: Introduction, Background, and Theory; Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition
- Tools of the Mind®Training: Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition
- Tools of the Mind® Training: Additional Scaffolds Appendix Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition
- Tools of the Mind® Classroom Materials: Literacy and Classroom Organization Content Guide and accompanying boxed materials
- Tools of the Mind® Classroom Materials: Math Content Guide and accompanying boxed materials
- Public access website: https://toolsofthemind.org/
- eTools curriculum website: Access is provided with purchase of curriculum (e.g., iScaffold and Pre-K Assessment)
Evidence Base for Child Outcomes
Evidence from research demonstrates that the curriculum has been associated with children's positive learning outcomes. The curriculum has been implemented and directly studied in early childhood programs, and the research showed significant, positive effects on children's developmental outcomes. Evidence of effectiveness has been obtained in rigorous research studies, such as randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs. Research studies on the curriculum have optimally included multiple, diverse groups of children and teachers.
At the time of this review, Tools of the Mind® has been evaluated in two key studies, a research study published in a peer-reviewed journal (Barnett, Jung, Yarosz, Thomas, Hornbeck, Stechuk, & Burns, 2008) and an experimental evaluation of Tools of the Mind® conducted by Vanderbilt University and funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (e.g., Farran, Wilson, Meador, Norvell, & Nesbitt, 2015). In addition, other studies have investigated the curriculum's effect on children's executive function (Diamond, Barnett, Thomas, & Monroe, 2007; Solomon, Plamondon, O'Hara, Finch, Goco, Chaban, Huggins, Ferguson, & Tannock, 2018). Studies of the kindergarten version of Tools of the Mind® and the curriculum enhancement Tools of the Mind®—Play are not included in this review.
Rigorous Design: Three of the Tools of the Mind® evaluations used cluster randomized experimental designs (Barnett et al., 2008; Farran et al., 2015; Solomon, et al., 2018). The study by Diamond and colleagues used random assignment but did not include pre-test data collection on children.
Sample and Generalizability: Across the studies, the samples were from varied settings (e.g., public preschool, day care, and Head Start), including children from primarily low-income and diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The study by Solomon and colleagues was conducted in a Canadian urban center, while the other studies were conducted in the United States.
Fidelity of Implementation: In the study conducted by Barnett and colleagues, teachers had four days of training prior to the school year as well as a half-day workshop and five one-hour lunch meetings during the school year. Teachers also met with a trainer weekly during the school year for 30-minute classroom visits and could schedule additional time with the trainer, as needed. To assess fidelity, Barnett and colleagues used an observational checklist. They found that by the end of the year, teachers were fully implementing six of seven key environmental features. In the Vanderbilt and Diamond studies, teachers had four days of training prior to the school year as well as three one-day workshops during the school year. In the following year, teachers were trained at a one-day opening workshop prior to the school year, as well as three half-day workshops during school year, and had coaching sessions every six weeks with a Tools of the Mind® staff member. Both studies used an observational checklist to assess fidelity and found that nearly all teachers implemented significant parts of the curriculum with high fidelity. In the Solomon study, teachers participated in five training sessions during the study period as well as ongoing coaching. Solomon and colleagues developed a "Tools Implementation Checklist" of the essential activities in the curriculum in order to measure fidelity. They found that the Tools of the Mind® teachers implemented the curriculum with "moderate success."
Child Outcomes: Barnett and colleagues found a positive effect of Tools of the Mind® on children's behavior but no effects on their language and literacy development or math, problem-solving, or visual-motor skills. The Vanderbilt evaluation investigated the effects of participating in Tools of the Mind® preschools on child outcomes in language, literacy, mathematics, self-regulation, and behavior in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade for two cohorts of children. The evaluation found one positive and some negative effects on child outcomes that varied by learning domain, grade level, and cohort. Diamond and colleagues found that children in Tools of the Mind® classrooms showed higher executive function skills than other children. Solomon and colleagues found that, overall, children in Tools of the Mind® classrooms had similar outcomes as children in comparison classrooms that used a different play-based curriculum. However, they did find a positive effect on one of the measures of self-regulation for children who had high initial levels of hyperactivity.
Barnett, W.S., Jung, K., Yarosz, D.J., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008). Educational effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum: A randomized trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(3), 299–313.
Diamond, A., Barnett, W.S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318(5855), 1387–1388. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1151148
Farran, D.C., Wilson, S.J., Meador, D., Norvell, J., & Nesbitt, K. (2015). Experimental Evaluation of the Tools of the Mind Pre-K Curriculum: Technical Report. (Working Paper). Peabody Research Institute, Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from https://my.vanderbilt.edu/toolsofthemindevaluation/files/2011/12/Tools-Technical-Report-Final-September-2015.pdf
Solomon, T., Plamondon, A., O'Hara, A., Finch, H., Goco, G., Chaban, P., Huggins, L., Ferguson, B., & Tannock, R. (2018). A cluster randomized-controlled trial of the Impact of the Tools of the Mind curriculum on self-regulation in Canadian preschoolers. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 2366.
The curriculum provides research-based content and teaching practices to support children's development and learning. A research-based curriculum is consistent with research on how children develop and learn. Specifically, it provides rich content, teaching practices, and learning experiences that research has shown to be effective in supporting children's development and learning. A research-based curriculum focuses on domain-specific, developmentally appropriate content and skills that contribute to children's long-range development in each domain.
Approaches to Learning: Tools of the Mind® consistently supports children's skills in the domain of Approaches to Learning. The curriculum is built on the Vygotskian idea that the goal of early childhood education is to foster children's self-regulation as they gain content knowledge. In addition to establishing predictable routines and activities throughout the year, the curriculum provides a variety of activities intentionally designed to promote self-regulation skills. For example, daily Opening Group activities such as "Fingerplays," "Chants," "Do What I Do," and "Physical Self-Regulation Games" develop children's working memory and self-regulation skills. Other activities, such as "Classroom Rules" (a plan created by a small group of children) or "Pretend Transitions," provide additional opportunities to practice physical self-regulation and develop executive function skills. Daily activities (e.g., Free Choice, Mystery Games, Make-Believe Play Practice) provide children with ample opportunities to initiate play and engage in open-ended exploration, which research shows support children's creativity.
Social and Emotional Development: The curriculum consistently promotes research-based teaching practices to support children's social and emotional development. Tools of the Mind® includes guidance on how to establish a strong classroom community among children and adults (e.g., Community Building Games). With a focus on learning through social interactions, the daily large and small group activities, such as Make-Believe Play, Buddy Reading, and Share the News, provide social contexts for children to practice social interaction and relationship skills. In addition, these activities offer opportunities for teachers to scaffold children's learning as they develop emotional regulation skills, social problem-solving, perspective-taking, and emotional understanding. For example, during Make-Believe Play, teachers introduce and reinforce the use of specific language for expressing ideas, thoughts, and feelings to others.
Language and Communication: Tools of the Mind® consistently promotes research-based teaching practices to support children's language and communication skills. The curriculum provides ongoing opportunities for rich oral language experiences based on topics interesting and relevant to young children (e.g., family, pets, grocery store). It offers multiple possibilities for dialogue and engagement. Teachers are guided to use, model, and scaffold children's language. For example, during Make-Believe Play, children choose and play characters based on the theme, and teachers elaborate on children's actions and interactions, adding complexity to children's oral language. Other activities, such as interactive read-alouds (Story Labs), Buddy Reading, and Opening Group activities (e.g., songs, chants, and games), support vocabulary development and provide ongoing opportunities to use and understand complex language. For example, in Story Lab activities such as "Active Listening" and "Connection," children listen to the story and then turn to a peer and discuss the book.
Literacy: The curriculum consistently supports the development of literacy skills through varied authentic opportunities for children to discuss, use, and make print materials. Each day's Opening Group time incorporates print in the form of illustrated poems, songs, charts, and chants that increase in complexity over the year. Make-Believe Play involves making print-based props (e.g., grocery lists, restaurant menus) for play scenarios that children plan. Story Lab activities use engaging children's books and magazines to support children's development of critical literacy skills, such as listening comprehension strategies, making predictions and inferences, building vocabulary, and conversing with peers about stories. The curriculum emphasizes the importance of written language (even if the mark is a scribble) to help children remember and express their inner thinking. Scaffolded writing is used in many activities (e.g., Message of the Day, Play Planning), encouraging children to draw and write any letter or word parts for authentic purposes.
Mathematics Development: Tools of the Mind® consistently promotes research-based teaching practices to support children's mathematics development. Intentionally designed math activities and games, with suggestions for how to increase complexity as the year progresses, provide children with ample opportunities to develop mathematical skills and concepts. Math is introduced as a "tool for thinking" and is used to record data (e.g., Weather Graphing) and solve problems (Mystery Math games), and as part of science activities and Make-Believe Play. Activities with materials such as puzzles, manipulatives, calendars, and blocks are used to promote conceptual understanding and introduce children to math vocabulary. For example, the "Remember and Replicate" activity uses playdough as a mode for producing shapes and arranging them in different ways, using vocabulary words to describe position, size, and shape (e.g., first, round, long, behind).
Scientific Reasoning: Tools of the Mind® promotes research-based teaching practices to support children's scientific reasoning. Science Eyes, the main science activity in the curriculum, engages children in focused observations, communication, and documentation once or twice a week. Working with a partner, children describe and discuss observations in detail and then document them in their science journals using drawing and writing. Teachers are guided to ask questions that encourage in-depth observations using different senses (e.g., "Now observe something different. What else do you notice?") and to scaffold the use of science vocabulary. As the year progresses, children participate in simple science experiments, exploring topics such as actions and reactions, force, and motion. However, limited weekly time is allocated for science learning, and there is no guidance on how to integrate science into other domains of the curriculum.
Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development: Tools of the Mind® promotes a few research-based teaching practices in this domain, such as providing opportunities for daily physical activity, practice of new physical skills, and the development of fine motor skills. However, physical skills are addressed indirectly through participation in activities that focus on self-regulation skills. Movement games, such as "Freeze Game," "Do What I Do," and "Pattern Movement," are incorporated into every day's Opening Time. Guidance for these games includes learning trajectories for gross motor development and some instructions about how to support children to participate successfully. There are also highly targeted learning activities for fine motor development (e.g., Graphics Practice). However, the curriculum lacks direction on how to create a safe outdoor environment that encourages active physical exploration, as well as intentional guidance to support the development of self-care skills, handwashing, personal safety, and nutrition.
Scope and Sequence
The curriculum includes an organized developmental scope and sequence to support children's development and learning. A scope and sequence outlines what the curriculum focuses on and how the plans and materials support children at different levels of development. The scope refers to the areas of development addressed by the curriculum; the sequence includes plans and materials for learning experiences that progressively build from less to more complex, with the goal of supporting children as they move through the developmental progressions. A content-rich curriculum ensures that sequences of learning experiences include multiple, related opportunities for children to explore a concept or skill with increasing depth. Sequences of learning experiences should be flexible to respond to individual children's interests, strengths, and needs.
Scope: The curriculum clearly identifies seven learning domains: Literacy; Writing; Mathematics; Science; Social Studies; Emotional, Social, and Underlying Cognitive/Executive Function Development; and Physical Development. The Tools of the Mind®Training: Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition (Training Manual) provides sets of activities organized according to the curriculum's main time blocks in the schedule (e.g., Free Time, Opening, Make-Believe Play). The "Standards Alignment Chart" lists specific activities and goals within each domain and articulates how the curriculum's activities map to the seven domains.
Sequence: Tools of the Mind® provides sequences of learning experiences organized in four levels of "Training Sessions," with content becoming more complex and challenging over time. The sequences of learning activities support children as they move through the developmental progressions in each of the ELOF preschool domains. They offer ample opportunities for children to explore concepts and skills. "Summary of Changes" describes how each set of activities becomes more complex over time. In addition, each activity includes a chart showing the developmental progression (from 3 to 5 years) of key skills addressed in the activity, scaffolding suggestions to individualize based on children's development and special needs ("Zooming in on the ZPD"), and ideas for increasing challenge ("Up the Challenge").
Alignment with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF)
The curriculum is aligned with the ELOF. Aligning a curriculum with the ELOF identifies the extent to which ELOF domains and sub-domains are addressed in the curriculum. Curricula that are fully aligned with the ELOF are comprehensive and cover all areas of children's learning and development described in the ELOF.
Alignment with the ELOF: A thorough review of all curriculum materials in relation to the ELOF domains and sub-domains indicates that Tools of the Mind® is mostly aligned with the ELOF. The majority of ELOF sub-domains are supported throughout the curriculum's sequence of games and activities described in the Training Manual. For example, the curriculum's Make-Believe Play and Story Lab literacy activities support children's development in areas such as cognitive self-regulation, oral language skills, literacy skills, and creativity. The curriculum partially addresses the ELOF sub-domain of Reasoning and Problem-Solving. In most science activities, children learn to observe, classify, and describe their observations, but there are fewer opportunities for children to plan and conduct investigations and experiments. The curriculum also does not address the sub-domain of Health, Safety, and Nutrition.
Learning Goals for Children
The curriculum specifies learning goals for children. The curriculum's learning goals are objectives for children's development and learning across domains. Learning goals should be measurable and developmentally appropriate. Measurable learning goals focus on skills, behaviors, and knowledge that are observable; developmentally appropriate learning goals are consistent with well-established developmental progressions. Teachers should be able to use a curriculum's learning goals to individualize learning experiences for all children, such as children from diverse cultures, children who are dual language learners (DLLs), children who are tribal language learners, and children with disabilities or other special needs.
Learning Goals: Tools of the Mind® specifies measurable, developmentally appropriate goals for children's learning and development. The goals concentrate mainly on children's underlying cognitive skills (self-regulation, focused attention, and deliberate memory), social-emotional school readiness (e.g., emotional and behavioral self-control), and foundational skills in literacy and mathematics. Each activity in the Training Manual provides a list of learning goals ("Purpose"), the rationale for the activity, and a "What to Expect—Developmental Learning Trajectories" chart showing the developmental continuum of skills across ages. Overall, the learning activities in the curriculum support children in making progress toward these goals. Building on the Vygotskian approach to teaching, the curriculum's activities provide scaffolding strategies to support children in reaching the goals ("Zooming in on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)"). The curriculum also provides the Tools of the Mind® Training: Additional Scaffolds Appendix Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition (Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual) with individual scaffolds for children who need more support in reaching the learning goals and for children who are DLLs.
Ongoing Child Assessment
The curriculum provides guidance on ongoing child assessment. Ongoing child assessment is a process of gathering information to understand and support children's development over time. Information gathered through observation and documentation helps inform curriculum planning, teaching, and individualizing for all children. Ongoing child assessment can also be used to periodically complete standardized and structured assessment instruments to evaluate children's developmental progress.
Ongoing Observation and Documentation: Tools of the Mind® describes and promotes "dynamic assessment" with specific guidance embedded throughout the curriculum materials for teachers to engage in this process. Through observations, the teacher identifies the child's independent level of performance (ZPD) and how the child responds to scaffolds and instruction. For example, the section "Scaffolding Make-Believe Play" suggests the teacher observe the child's current stage of play, identify a scaffolding goal, provide supports according to the child's ZPD, and observe again to assess the need for further support. Additionally, Pre-K Assessment offers specific assessment resources for observing and documenting children's progress across domains within daily routines and learning experiences (e.g., Scaffolded Writing, Story Lab Listening Comprehension, Math, Social and Emotional Development), as well as guidance for developing and using portfolios that illustrate children's growth over time.
Standardized and Structured Assessment Instruments: The curriculum provides structured assessments but does not provide information about selecting and using standardized assessment instruments. Pre-K Assessment describes and provides some structured assessment tools, such as Listening Comprehension Formative and Summative Assessments and Letter Sound and Name Dynamic Assessments. The curriculum encourages programs to use these assessment tools at regular intervals to track children's progress and adjust learning experiences. However, the tools are not standardized (valid or reliable), and there is no guidance on how to select standardized assessment instruments.
Parent and Family Engagement
The curriculum promotes parent and family engagement. Parent and family engagement is a collaborative and strengths-based process through which early childhood teachers, families, and children build positive and goal-oriented relationships. It is a shared responsibility of families and staff that is built on mutual respect for the roles and strengths each has to offer. The curriculum provides culturally and linguistically responsive strategies to communicate with families and to engage families in children's learning.
Communicating with Families: Tools of the Mind® provides information to share with families about the curriculum's learning experiences. The "Parent Resource" section of the eTools website includes a "Back to School Night" PowerPoint presentation about core curriculum activities. It also contains a detailed brochure explaining the curriculum's philosophy, goals, and ways parents can effectively support their children's continued development of self-regulation skills at home. In addition, it offers newsletters to be sent home at the beginning and mid-point of each month that describe the curriculum's learning experiences, including lists of books and "fingerplays" children experienced in class. Each parent resource is provided in both English and Spanish. However, the curriculum provides minimal guidance about the importance of two-way communication with families, how to communicate with families in culturally and linguistically responsive ways, and how to share information with parents and families about their child's development.
Engaging Families: The curriculum provides specific guidance on how to engage parents and families in children's learning and development. Each parent newsletter, available in English and Spanish, includes a list of "Extensions at Home" with simple activities parents and children can do together (e.g., "Help someone at home make a recipe in the kitchen."). A "Need Your Help!" section at the bottom of each newsletter asks for specific prop materials (e.g., empty food containers). In addition, eTools offers "Let's Pretend" books in English and Spanish to help parents support the development of children's make-believe play skills at home. However, there is no guidance for teachers to invite families to become involved in the classroom environment and activities, nor is there consideration on how to engage culturally diverse families or families that speak languages other than Spanish or English.
Professional Development and Materials to Support Implementation
The curriculum offers professional development and materials to support implementation and continuous improvement. Professional development includes gaining the knowledge and skills required for effective implementation of a curriculum. Standardized training procedures include initial and ongoing training to support education staff as they learn to implement a curriculum with fidelity. Standardized training procedures provide consistent content and delivery methods across training sessions. Curriculum materials to support implementation include resources that come with a curriculum to help education staff understand how to use it. The materials may also include resources to help education managers and coaches support education staff to implement the curriculum effectively.
Professional Development: Tools of the Mind® provides a comprehensive system of training and support. Initial training includes four "CORE" trainings workshops for a fee. The first is offered in person, over two days, prior to the start of the school year. Each of the remaining three sequential workshops is a one-day session, delivered in person or virtually, in fall, winter, and spring of the first year. In addition, the curriculum offers varied opportunities for ongoing professional development on a range of topics through webinars, "PreK Beyond the Core" workshops, and online modules. Tools of the Mind® also offers customized training for programs and individualized coaching sessions.
Curriculum Materials to Support Implementation: Tools of the Mind® provides a comprehensive set of materials to support implementation. The Tools of the Mind®: Introduction, Background, and Theory; Pre-K Manual, 7th Edition (Introductory Manual) includes a rich overview of the background, theory, and key elements of the curriculum. The primary Training Manual offers detailed information about each of the curriculum's activities, including materials and set-up, steps for implementing each activity, and detailed guidance for teachers about engaging and supporting children during the activity ("Flow and Process"). The Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual describes strategies for supporting specific learning needs (e.g., developmental delays, self-regulation supports, fine motor supports) and for supporting children who are DLLs. iScaffold, available to curriculum users through the publisher website or app, is a multimedia teaching tool that provides a range of assistance on demand (e.g., learning experiences, learning trajectories, scaffolding ideas). In addition, the Pre-K Assessment appendix provides assessment instruments to identify baselines, document children's development over time, and identify areas of individual need to target scaffolding and intentionally plan instruction.
- Fidelity Tool: The curriculum offers Teacher Self-Reflection forms, which can be used to assess fidelity of implementation. The forms provide detailed checklists with key elements for each set of activities in the curriculum (e.g., Opening Group, Make-Believe Play, Literacy Time Block, Story Lab, and Math/Science Small Group Time Block). Teachers can use this tool independently to reflect on their own implementation of activities, or collaboratively with a coach to identify areas of support.
Learning Experiences and Interactions
The curriculum promotes rich learning experiences and interactions to support development across domains. Rich learning experiences support and extend children's knowledge, understanding of concepts, and skills across domains. As children actively explore their learning environment by manipulating objects and investigating concepts, teachers interact with them to extend their exploration, thinking, and communication. The curriculum offers children ample opportunities to engage in hands-on exploration and provides teachers with guidance on how to extend children's exploration, thinking, and communication. Rich learning experiences should be culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive of children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs.
Active Exploration: Tools of the Mind® provides daily opportunities for children to engage in open-ended, hands-on explorations. The classroom is set up with six interest areas (e.g., science, sensory, blocks, manipulatives), each equipped with sensory materials as well as more complex materials related to the Make-Believe Play theme of the month. Every morning, children freely choose to play at any of these centers. Additionally, the daily schedule includes a time specifically for "Make-Believe Play Center," which offers more opportunities for free explorations during the day. Although the children use some center materials in more structured ways (e.g., according to scenarios related to the theme), children can suggest their roles and scripts and manipulate objects to create play scenarios. Other daily small group activities such as Puzzles, Manipulatives, and Blocks, provide children with opportunities to explore objects, build, and create with different materials (e.g., blocks, playdough, lacing, pegs, nuts, and bolts).
Interactions That Extend Children's Learning: Throughout all learning activities and in its introductory materials, Tools of the Mind® provides specific guidance on how to extend children's play, exploration, and communication. Built on the theoretical foundation of social learning and providing experiences and support within the child's individual ZPD, the curriculum guides teachers to actively scaffold children's learning by providing prompts, hints, and gestural signs and by using "Mediator Cards" with visual reminders of the task in hand. For example, in Story Lab activities, teachers use mediator cards with open-ended questions or other prompts to scaffold children's self-regulation and to expand children's thinking and communication about the book (e.g., "What was your favorite part?" "You can make connections between this book and something that happened to you.").
Individualization: The curriculum provides specific guidance embedded throughout curriculum materials on how to ensure learning experiences are appropriate and accessible for all children. Each activity's lesson plan includes a section titled "Zooming in on the ZPD" which includes specific tips and strategies to help children who need extra support and for children who are DLLs. For each activity, the Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual also provides specific accommodations and modifications to meet the needs of children with different needs (e.g., a child who has difficulty with expressive language, participating, or following directions) and a special section with guidance for supporting children who are DLLs.
Learning Environments and Routines
The curriculum provides guidance on how to set up rich learning environments and developmentally appropriate routines. Rich learning environments are nurturing spaces that support the development of all young children. The curriculum provides guidance on how to design developmentally appropriate schedules, routines, and indoor and outdoor opportunities for choice, play, exploration, and experimentation. Learning environments include age-appropriate equipment, materials, and supplies. They also reflect home cultures and are flexible to support the changing ages, interests, and characteristics of a group of children over time.
Environment: The Tools of the Mind® Training Manual and online environment module accessed through eTools provide specific guidance on how to design an engaging environment that promotes learning and development across domains. Guidance focuses primarily on setting up the furniture and materials in the six indoor learning centers: Literacy, Housekeeping/Dramatic Play, Science/Sensory, Blocks, Art/Fine Motor, Math/Manipulatives/Table Toys. For each activity, a section called "Structure of this Activity" includes information about the materials and classroom setup. Throughout the materials, photographs show the different ways the space is organized and how children can be oriented to the materials. The curriculum provides some advice on how to include the child's home language into the physical environment, but there is no guidance for including children's culture or for making the environment accessible for children with disabilities or other special needs. In addition, the curriculum lacks direction on setting up the outdoor environment.
Learning Materials: Tools of the Mind® provides specific descriptions of materials needed for each activity in "Structure of this Activity." The materials are developmentally appropriate, open-ended, and support children's play and exploration. For example, materials to support Make-Believe Play include props and books related to the play theme, as well as pictures of real-life roles and actions. Materials are rotated monthly as new Make-Believe Play themes are introduced. The curriculum provides learning materials, such as games and cards, that are used as "mediators" to support focused engagement during activities (e.g., a card with a picture of an "ear" to mean the child is the listener of a story). All materials are presented in English and Spanish. However, there is no specific guidance on selecting materials that authentically represent children's cultures or adapting materials to make them accessible for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs.
Schedule and Routines: Tools of the Mind® provides a specific daily schedule with a detailed description of the activities in each time block, including Free Choice/Mystery Game, Opening Group, Make-Believe Play Center Block, Literacy Activities, Outside/Play, and Math/Science Activities. The daily schedule is consistent and alternates large- and small group activities with individual choice and active, child-initiated play. The activities have the same name and structure across the year (e.g., Share the News, Scaffolded Writing, Story Lab), but the theme changes and the level of complexity and cognitive demand increases as the year progresses. Teachers are encouraged to discuss with their coach and curriculum trainer how to tailor the schedule to meet the needs and constraints of the program, but no further support is provided. There is guidance on how specific routine activities may need to be adjusted based on individual children's needs.
The curriculum supports cultural responsiveness. Cultural responsiveness is a strengths-based approach to teaching and caregiving rooted in respect and appreciation for the role of culture in children's learning and development. A culturally responsive curriculum prompts teachers to learn about each child's strengths, abilities, experiences, and interests as developed within the child's family and culture. The curriculum provides guidance on how to modify and enhance curriculum plans and materials to build on these strengths, abilities, experiences, and interests with the goal of incorporating each child's culture into the classroom.
Interactions: The curriculum does not offer guidance on how to engage in culturally responsive interactions with children and families (e.g., learning about the families' expectations, practices, and routines within their family and culture). In one activity (Story Lab on Character Empathy), the curriculum refers to cultural differences, pointing out that different cultures express and interpret emotions in different ways. However, the curriculum does not discuss culturally responsive ways of interacting with diverse children and families.
Learning Experiences: The curriculum discusses the importance of showing respect for all cultures and all languages in the classroom. In the section "Specific Additional Scaffolds for Dual Language Learners," the curriculum encourages teachers of children who are DLLs to create themes that support children's cultures and language use and to make sure that children's home cultures are naturally represented throughout the day. A "tourist approach" (e.g., having a special celebration related to culture occasionally) is to be avoided. For Make-Believe Play, the curriculum encourages teachers to incorporate scenarios that represent the children's cultures. However, the curriculum provides minimal guidance on how to provide or adapt learning experiences that build on the families' traditions, cultures, and values.
Learning Environment: The curriculum provides minimal guidance on how to select and use learning materials that reflect cultural diversity. The section "Specific Additional Scaffolds for Dual Language Learners" encourages teachers to choose books that celebrate the children's backgrounds and to make sure that children's home cultures are represented throughout the day "in a natural way." Curriculum materials, such as "Daily Schedule Cards" and "Story Lab Mediator Cards," include images that reflect children and families from diverse cultures and ethnicities. Similarly, the "Let's Pretend" e-books depict community helpers, family members, and other adults of many ethnicities. However, the curriculum lacks guidance on how to use learning materials that represent the cultures and the ethnicities of the children and families in the program.
The curriculum supports linguistic responsiveness. Linguistic responsiveness refers to teaching practices that support the learning, development, and engagement of children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. It includes supports for continued development of children's home or tribal languages by authentically incorporating children's languages into the learning environment. Furthermore, linguistically responsive practices can facilitate English acquisition. The curriculum provides scaffolding strategies to support children at any level of English knowledge to fully participate in the curriculum's learning experiences.
Scaffolding Strategies: Tools of the Mind® provides specific guidance embedded throughout curriculum materials on how to scaffold the development and learning of children who are DLLs. Each lesson plan includes a section titled "Zooming in on the ZPD" with some specific tips and strategies to support children who are DLLs (e.g., repeat the same fingerplay several times a day; encourage children to use just gestures at first). In addition, the Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual offers activity-specific suggested scaffolds for DLLs. This volume also provides the "Tools Teacher Phrasebook." It includes a list of phrases teachers can learn in children's home language (phrases in Spanish are provided) to facilitate communication and allow children to understand routines and directions for critical classroom activities. It is also important to note that strategies such as mediator cards, visuals, and gestures are used with all children as part of the curriculum's learning activities and routines, and provide ongoing supports to DLLs.
Home and Tribal Languages: Tools of the Mind® provides specific guidance embedded throughout curriculum materials on how to authentically incorporate children's home languages into the learning environment. The "Zooming in on the ZPD" sections include prompts describing how to incorporate children's home language (e.g., teach a fingerplay in children's home language; speak the child's home language, if you know how, when playing the game; have the rules translated to the child's home language; read the book in English and in the child's home language, if possible). During Make-Believe Play, children are encouraged to have conversations in whichever language they feel comfortable using. The Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual emphasizes the importance of incorporating the child's home language into classroom communications and activities. It provides the "Tools Teacher Phrasebook" with useful classroom phrases that teachers are encouraged to learn in the child's home language (phrases in Spanish are provided) and use, when possible. Finally, the curriculum materials (e.g., mediator cards, rules of the classroom) are translated into Spanish. Tribal languages are not addressed.
Individualization for Children with Disabilities, Suspected Delays, or Other Special Needs
The curriculum provides guidance on how to individualize for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs. Individualization for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs includes providing more specialized supports for children to access and participate in learning, social experiences, and activities. The curriculum's guidance for specialized supports includes specific teaching practices and ways of interacting with children, as well as adaptations to daily schedules, learning activities, and the learning environment. Individualizing for children with disabilities, suspected delays, or other special needs enables all children to access, participate, and thrive in early learning settings.
Teaching Practices and Interventions: The curriculum's approach is that teachers should make accommodations for children with special needs, suspected delays, or other special needs within every activity, as necessary, without making modifications that alter the purpose of the activity. Accommodations are based on children's responses to supports and scaffolds provided by the learning environment in relationship to the child's ZPD. The Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual provides overview information on scaffolding for individual children with special needs, including children with significant developmental delays, behavior problems (self-regulation), and children who need more fine motor supports. This volume also provides "Additional Teacher Scaffolds," specific supports for children with a variety of needs related to each activity in the curriculum. For example, in the activity "Share the News," there are scaffolds for a child who has difficulty with expressive language and for a child who has difficulty remembering the steps in the activity.
Learning Environment: The Introductory Manual discusses "Accommodations Made Within the Classroom," but provides minimal guidance on how to modify the physical environment. The curriculum mentions briefly that "the nature of a child's disability might mean accommodations that require changes be made in the design of the entire classroom or in the design of specific activities" and that such accommodations should be discussed among special education staff and the classroom teacher. A few strategies in the Additional Scaffolds Appendix Manual include suggestions for adapting materials (e.g., for a child who has a visual impairment, provide objects that have texture to sort so the child can use both touch and vision).
Individualization Based on Interests, Strengths, and Needs
The curriculum offers guidance on how to individualize based on children's interests, strengths, and needs. Individualization is a process of planning and implementing learning experiences that are responsive to each child's interests, strengths, and needs. Teachers reflect on their observations of each child and then plan the most effective ways to support each child's learning and development. When learning experiences are tailored to children's interests, they are more engaging and meaningful to children. Because children may vary in their developmental progressions, it is also important that the curriculum supports teachers in planning learning experiences that are responsive to individual children's strengths and needs.
Individualization Based on Interests: Tools of the Mind® provides children with daily opportunities to play in classroom centers of their choice (e.g., Free Choice, Mystery Game Block) and to choose their activities and materials. Children also engage daily in Make-Believe Play. As the year progresses, teachers are instructed to choose play themes that follow children's interests and reflect the community in which the children live. Children invent new actions and scenarios, play different roles, use their imagination to invent props, and expand play themes based on their interests. However, other activities in the curriculum are pre-planned (e.g., Story Lab activities, Math and Science activities), and there is no guidance in on how to plan learning experiences based on the interests of individual children.
Individualization Based on Strengths and Needs: The curriculum offers specific guidance embedded throughout its materials on how to make learning experiences responsive to individual children's strengths and needs. All activities are designed so that children at different levels of development can participate and learn. Within each activity, "Zooming in on the ZPD" provides scaffolds to support children who need extra support. Each activity also includes "Up the Challenge," providing ideas for making the activity more challenging, either by making it more difficult cognitively or by increasing self-regulation demands on children.