To Plan a lot or a Little: Comparing HighScope and The Creative Curriculum in Early Childhood Education Models

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Abstract

As professional understanding of human development has entered an age past the “blank slate” idea (Pinker, 2002), educators and researchers agree that raising healthy, functional learners is a work of collaboration between caretakers and children and that, in the capacity in which caretakers exercise more control over educational curricula than do children, their understanding of individual children’s variant development is central to successful implementation of the models that best suit learning and growth in early childhood education. Of the curricular models that today attempt to adhere to the principles of developmentally appropriate practices set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), two are compared and discussed in this paper: The Creative Curriculum, now commercially managed through Teaching Strategies, LLC, and the HighScope Curriculum, based on the work of the seminal Perry Preschool project of 1960s Ypsilanti School District in Michigan.

Introduction

Two hundred years after the European enlightenment, understanding of human beings is enjoying the scrutiny of scientific investigation. In the 20th century, progress in cognitive science and psychology has grown our understanding of human development and we can focus our attention, at will, on any stage of life, including the early years. Scientists no longer believe that children are born with a “tabula rasa,” a blank slate, ready for imprinting (Pinker, 2002). Instead, psychologists and neuroscientists understand that human development is a dance between human genetic predispositions and the environment that interacts with them, an environment rich in the influence of adults, caregivers and peers (Dodge, 2010). The further understanding that children develop at varying rates and also divergently within their own growth, is central to the idea that personalizing education is critical to the optimal development of individual children (NAEYC, 2009). Conveniently, this commitment to personal attention by caregivers has the effect of serving children with special needs without a deliberate addendum, although many plans chose to address special-needs separately nonetheless.

Comparing HighScope and The Creative Curriculum allows for an investigation of the value of the plan-do-review learning approach practiced by HighScope programs and affords a discussion on the optimal amount of involvement of teachers and caretakers in a child’s learning and development.

Literature Review

- American Youth Policy Forum. (2003). High Scope Perry Preschool. A Summary of “Significant Bebefits: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study through age 27.

This source gives the historical context for the HighScope Perry Preschool project and provides illustrative data on its functionality. We learn that the study aimed to aid the academic success of low-children. Today, HighScope’s approaches are not used at early childhood education centers without special regard to economic preconditions.

- Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

This is a physical volume and is the precursor to the 2009 edition cited below. It provides a thorough introduction to the current state of research within early childhood education, discusses teachers as leaders in the classroom and as decision makers. It provides reports on developmentally appropriate – and developmentally inappropriate - practices for children birth to age 8. The caption to a photo of a woman spoon feeding a baby reads, “Infants sense whether someone enjoys their company during play and every routines” (p. 63). This is a valuable resource for comparing the principles for development and learning held by the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 1997 with those published today. There does not appear to be a substantive difference.

- Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

This is a full report of the NAEYC’s position statement for developmentally appropriate practice within early childhood curricula, as adopted for use in 2009. The statement lists 12 “principles,” each of which “describes an individually contributing factor” (p. 10). Although the principles point out the nuance and complexities associated with teaching the developing child, the introduction still warns that “No linear listing…can do justice to the complexity of the phenomenon that is child development and learning” (p. 10).

- Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (2009). “Key Messages on the Position Statement.” Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

A summary of the 2009 position statement, cited above. The take-away point from this summary is that, as the Association claims, “developmentally appropriate practice” is not intended to “makes things easier for children.” Rather, the focus is on teachers and students coming together at the point at which each child is ready to be enabled for the next developmental challenge, “which means that teachers must get to know them well.” To result in “best practice,” this personal contact must be “based on knowledge – not on assumptions – of how children learn and develop.”

- Dianellos, J. (Ed.). (2010). The Creative Curriculum for Early Childhood. Bureau for Children and Families, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

This is the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ sample daily curriculum for The Creative Curriculum model care centers within West Virginia may want to implement. Engraved with a “Sample” watermark throughout, it nonetheless serves as a valuable example of what a Creative Curriculum outside of the proprietary The Creative Curriculum sale materials may look like. The document lists the categories through which care facilities may “link the program’s curriculum to the WV Early Learning Standards Framework.” Namely, by engaging “Social and Emotional Development,” “The Arts,” “Physical Health,” “Mathematics” and “Science.” This document is an example of a state endorsing The Creative Curriculum.

- Dodge, D.T., Colker, L.J., & Heroman, C. (2010). [Submission] The Creative Curriculum for Preschool. Florida Department of Education VPK Curriculum Approval Process for Low Performing Providers

A slightly closer access to The Creative Curriculum’s contents and the general site of the managing organization, Teaching Strategies, this document is a submission to the Florida Department of Education, as the citation shows. This information demonstrates that the Curriculum is marketed to any child care facility, it does indeed also aim to facilitate the learning and development of at-risk children – or wishes to be approved explicitly for such use. It details the general contents of the curriculum sales materials: “A Parent’s Guide to Preschool answers many of the questions families have about what their children do and learn during the preschool day,” explaining, in addition, “how preschool children learn, the purpose of the preschool curriculum and why social-emotional skills are so important.”

Since many of the principles in operation here are part of the NAEYC’s position statement, this resource was mostly review.

- Epstein, A.S. (2003). How planning and reflection develop young children's thinking skills. Young Children (58.5), 28-36.

This source supports the position held by the HighScope curriculum model that “planning and reflection are positively and significantly related to developmental progress” (HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2013). Ann Epstein claims that in early childhood education curricula, making plans and making choices are often merged together into a single goal or principle. She notes that planning needs special attention since it is a higher-order task than is choice-making. Deciding what colors to use in a project is a simpler task than is planning an action, she suggests. “Planning involves deciding on actions and predicting interactions, recognizing problems and proposing solution, and anticipating consequences.” Her call for a differentiation between planning and choice making is convincing.

- HighScope Educational Research Foundation. (2013, December). What is the HighScope Curriculum?

This is the FAQ site for the HighScope Educational Research Foundation. It explains the main principles and curriculum philosophies of the HighScope method.

- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education. (2012, March). The High Scope Preschool Curriculum.

This document summarizes the HighScope curriculum. It notes that the HighScope curriculum is a “complete system of early childhood education” and “focuses on the five dimensions of school readiness, identified by the National Education Goals Panel”:

Approaches to learning

Language, literacy and communication

Social and emotional development

Physical development, health, and well‐being

Arts and sciences

- Northern Illinois University Campus Child Care. (2013, December). What is Emergent Curriculum? Retrieved from http://www.niu.edu/ccc/curriculum/curriculum.shtml

This is a citation of a child care in Illinois which uses the Emergent Curriculum and describes its main practices. Served as an overview and example of curriculum use in a learning facility.

- Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Steven Pinker’s evolutionarily driven account of human predispositions for learning and language, among other things. Not part of the official literature review but used in the introduction and abstract.

- Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11.

- A description of the development of the mental processes called executive functioning in humans. Notes on the deleterious effects of its disruption and the positive effects of supporting children properly in this growth. Among other information, this article discusses the ages at which young children begin to engage in higher-order mental functioning such as planning – after age three.

Analysis and Synthesis

There is a great deal of overlap among popularly applied curricular models in early childhood education today. Particularly, the HighScope curriculum and The Creative Curriculum seem to differ only in fine points.

They both support policies that are research-based and child-centered. In this, they conform to NAEYC standards for practices grounded in “theory and literature” (Bredekam, 2009). They also both view children as active learners who require autonomy as well as strong guidance from caretakers and teachers (American Youth Policy Forum, 2003; Dodge, 2010).

This, too, conforms to NAEYC standards. If we look at curricular samples, we see that, in both, symbolic reasoning is part of the day and children of either curriculum are asked to think about their activities and make decisions. In The Creative Curriculum, children may be asked to “use comparative words to describe number, size, shape, weight and color,” or to choose “one activity out of several options” (Dianellos, 2010). In HighScope, students partake in “child-initiated learning,” supported by guidance-oriented adults (American Youth Policy Forum, 2003).

Both HighScope and The Creative Curriculum, according to their own marketing materials, are used in “many early childhood initiatives, including some Head Start programs” (American Youth Policy Forum, 2003; Epstein, 2003). For The Creative Curriculum, the founder of Teaching Strategies, LLC and the lead author for the materials sold through it is Diane Trista Dodge, who has coordinated Head Start and child care programs in Mississippi and Washington D.C.(Teaching Strategies, 2013, December). Another author is Laura Colker, who is an editor for NAEYC’s journal for preschool teachers. Another has served for the national Head Start Bureau in Washington D.C.

So, when it comes to curriculum integration, The Creative Curriculum, at least, is intertwined, in its very political history with the programs it serves and the association to whose policy it adheres. As to actual integration of curricular commitments into the fabric of daily business at an educational facility: there, too, it seems that both approaches would be almost tied into the practice by the nature of the language in their principles.

One Creative Curriculum description excerpt reads: “First, the curriculum draws on the latest empirical, peer-reviewed research on brain development and on the early reading development of preschool children...additionally, evaluation research provides strong evidence that The Creative Curriculum for Preschool improves classroom quality and promotes positive physical, social, and cognitive outcomes for children” (Teaching Strategies, 2013, December). No curriculum that actively draws on “research on brain development” can focus narrowly and execute goals singly. Such results, if accurately portrayed, are necessarily the end product of curriculum integration.

Similarly, the HighScope curriculum espouses “children’s active learning, “where children’s interests and choices are at the heart of the program” (HighScope, 2013, December). Children meet in small groups, talk with teachers, chose activities, plan future work, recount past work and partake in “vigorous, noisy outdoor play” (HighScope, 2013, December). Again it seems that, without an idea of HighScope being an integrated curriculum, the daily activities logs would need to be a great deal more prescribed.

Comparing some of this language to language from NAEYC’s “principles of child development and learning that inform practice,” we see common threads. For example, in the first annotated principle, we are told that “all the domains of development and learning – physical, social and emotional, and cognitive – are important, and they are closely interrelated” (Bredekamp & Copple, 2009, p.11). In number seven, we are told that “children develop best when they have secure, consistent relationships with responsive adults and opportunities for a positive relationship with peers” (Bredekamp & Copple, 2009, p.13). What better way to combine the domains of development as in principle #1 and optimize the environment of dynamic social development and stability, as prescribed in #7 than to group children for controlled play, discussion, choice selection and reflection. A child might, in such an environment, have the opportunity both to reflect solitarily on his or her ideas and experiences and to share them openly with an audience of peers (and potential critics! – friends or foes!). Such an environment offers a rich array of the major prescribed principles for development and learning. Both curricular approaches outline such programs, as demonstrated above.

I would agree with the implementation of and support the philosophic structure of both of these methods. I particularly enjoy the articulations of the adult-child interactions. In HighScope, “teachrs establish a safe and nurturing classroom environment where children can be happy and busy pursuing their interests” (High Scope, 2013, December) and in The Creative Curriculum, teachers emphasize “responsiveness to children’s strengths, interests, needs and learning syles” (TeachingStrategies, 2013).

It is true that The Creative Curriculum places more emphasis on the teacher and his or her role while HighScope commits to the personal choices of every child, but both approaches are appealing because they both subscribe to the idea that children need both careful nurturing and personal respect. The difference between them in this capacity is only a matter of emphasis and does not constitute true differentiation.

Similarly, for the idea of planning and reflection in the curriculum. Both adhere to NAEYC prescription that such activity is beneficial for children of age three and up, (Bredekamp & Copple, 2009). HighScope places this principle at its core while Creative Curriculum aligns it more tangentially, but here too, the difference is a matter of degree, not of substance.

While The Creative Curriculum seems more focused on instruction, both approaches encourage exploration by students and both claim to implement research-based data (Epstein, 2003; Dodge, 2010).

The need young children have for learning, for autonomy, for direction, for materials through which to develop symbolic skills, language, trust and self-confidence is well outlined in the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s position statement, last revised and adopted in 2009. Within the statement are 12 principles which outline conclusions drawn from the latest research data on childhood development. Both Creative Curriculum and HighScope appear to subscribe to these principles, to respect the data and to offer curricular structure that supports the principles ideas.

Embedded throughout is the idea that children are individuals and that a highly institutionalized approach to their care and education will not serve them or the common good.

The NAEYC claims that “all teaching practices should be appropriate to children’s age and development status, attuned to them as unique individuals and responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live” (Bredekam & Copple, 2009).

Because both curricula subscribe to NAEYC standards, both describe guidance of children as an individualized process, one teacher to one child at a time (American Youth Policy Forum, 2003; Dianellos, 2010). This creates a convenience in the working with children with special needs who, under such a model, would enjoy the same individualized attention as other children.

The Creative Curriculum and HighScope enjoy popularity in American early-childhood learning settings. In 1962, the Perry Preschool Study of demonstrated the value early childhood education with HighScope principles could have on individuals. It followed a group of students who had been enrolled in HighScope and a group who had not been enrolled until age 40 and tracked data about the individuals such as successful graduation from high school, annual salary and time spent in jail. The data showed significant benefits to individuals who had attended the early childhood program (HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2013). From this legacy the HighScope curriculum draws a robust history and is still used in early childhood classrooms today. The Creative Curriculum is a more modern curriculum but it is based on research that dates back to 1990, in work on educational policy and child psychology (Teaching Strategies, 2013).

Comparison of Models

Although the principles of child development and learning upheld by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), through which learning facilities can seek accreditation, can be implemented in a multitude of ways, two approaches figure prominently among care centers. The HighScope curriculum is based on the seminal, longitudinal Perry Preschool study begun in the 1960s in Michigan. It focuses on students’ active, physical learning by providing “hands-on experiences with people, objects, events and ideas” (HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2013). The Creative Curriculum is currently a proprietary methodology held by Teaching Strategies, LLC and keeps central to its practice “the teacher’s vital role in connecting content, teaching, and learning for preschool children.”

Both approaches support the NAEYC’s commitment to information teaching practice “by what we know from theory and literature about how children develop and learn,” versus what “we think might be true or what we want to believe.” However, they differ from each other in the emphasis each places on portions of the educational ideology. While both recognize the role of physical, social and emotional development for children, as outlined in principle #1 of the NAEYC’s position statement (Bredekamp & Copple, 2009), The Creative Curriculum square attention on “the vital role of the teacher” (Dodge, 2010) while HighScope emphasizes the importance of planning and reflection though its plan-do-review strategy (HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2013).

The HighScope plan-do-review principle is more fully articulated by Ann Epstein, director of the Early Childhood Division at the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. In How planning and reflection develop young children's thinking skills (2003), she writes that “there is empirical and practical evidence that we can promote the development of thinking and reasoning in young children in the early years by providing two curriculum components—planning and Reflection” (Epstein, 2003). She suggests that, too often, care centers merge planning with choice-making which inappropriately joins two disparate functions, since planning is a much higher-order function since it “involves deciding on actions and predicting interactions, recognizing problems and proposing solution, and anticipating consequences” (Epstein, 2003).

Because, as work from Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University shows and as Ann Epstein also notes, evidence for the benefits of planning for children under the age of three is inconclusive (Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2011). For that reason, The Creative Curriculum, which does denounce planning and reflections but also does not emphasize them and instead focuses acutely on the children’s interaction with their caregivers and teachers seems more appropriate for use in facilities that care for children from birth until five years of age.

Conclusion

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) every few years revises a set of principles by which early childhood education programs can gauge their curricula and amend or revise their models if they are interested in NAEYC accreditation. Two commercially available curricular approaches enjoy relative popularity today. One is based on the 1962 High/Scopes Perry Preschool longitudinal study launched by the Ypsilanti School District in Michigan and one is based on behavioral and educational research of the 1980s and 1990s, The Creative Curriculum.

Because they share so much of the values outlined in the NAEYC position statement of 2009, both curricula are robust models for early childhood education. They uphold children’s autonomy and their need for directed, respectful guidance through early-life stages of development, exploration and learning.

Minor differences account for possible preference of one or the other method by practitioners. The Creative Curriculum stresses the value of the integral adult teacher in the child’s daily routine while HighScope, though also valuing student-teaching interaction, places its central focus on what it calls the plan-do-review process (HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2013). In plan-do-review, children are encouraged to think about an activity they want to undertake and, afterwards, reflect on its execution. Supporters say that this practice develops “thinking and reasoning in young children” (Epstein, 2003).

As mentioned above, because both approaches adhere well to the NAEYC position-statement principles and support children’s growth based on that organization’s scientifically-supported reports, I believe both approaches would be beneficial to children and, consequently, to the society that educates them. I do believe that educational research and research in cognitive neuroscience has uncovered to us information not available to educators of any previous era. Today, we are neither interested in having children be “seen and not heard,” as is popularly remembered by many of today’s adults whose parents were of the WWII generation, nor are we proud of the heritage we have followed.

I would like to believe that I join an army of educators who trust in the power of science and in the goodwill of organizations like NAEYC to bring, support and uphold principles that will only ever further nurture, support and empower every generation’s children.

Naturally, then, I would not only like to work in such an environment. I would like to built it, support it, inform it and watch it grow and spread. With tools like The Creative Curriculum and HighScope, that legacy has been growing and we have now enjoyed the first decades of what will hopefully be a long and ever more enlightened approach to early childhood education, built, as NAEYC holds forth, on true understanding rather whim or anecdote.

References

American Youth Policy Forum. (2003). High Scope Perry Preschool. A Summary of “Significant Bebefits: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study through age 27. Monographs of the High/Scope Education research Foundation (1993).” Retrieved from http://www.aypf.org/publications/nomoreisle/PDF/108-110.pdf

Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PSDAP.pdf

Bredekamp, S. & Copple, C. (Eds.). (2009). “Key Messages on the Position Statement.” Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/KeyMessages.pdf

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved fromwww.developingchild.harvard.edu

Dianellos, J. (Ed.). (2010). The Creative Curriculum for Early Childhood. Bureau for Children and Families, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Retrieved from \\http://www.wvdhhr.org/bcf/ece/earlycare/documents/tiered_reimb/centers/section5.curriculum.pdf

Dodge, D.T., Colker, L.J., & Heroman, C. (2010). [Submission] The Creative Curriculum for Preschool. Florida Department of Education VPK Curriculum Approval Process for Low Performing Providers. Retrieved from http://www.fldoe.org/earlylearning/pdf/CreativeCurriculum.pdf

Epstein, A.S. (2003). How planning and reflection develop young children's thinking skills. Young Children (58.5), 28-36.

HighScope Educational Research Foundation. (2013, December). What is the HighScope Curriculum? Retrieved from http://www.highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentId=291

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education. (2012, March). The High Scope Preschool Curriculum. Retrieved from http://ncchildcare.nc.gov/pdf_forms/HighScopePreschoolCurriculum1009.pdf

Northern Illinois University Campus Child Care. (2013, December). What is Emergent Curriculum? Retrieved from http://www.niu.edu/ccc/curriculum/curriculum.shtml

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PSDAP.pdf

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Robinson, K. (2008). “Changing Education Paradigms.” [YouTube]. RSA Animate. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Teaching Strategies (2013, December). Research on The Creative Curriculum for Preschool. Retrieved from http://www.teachingstrategies.com/content/pageDocs/The_Creative_Curriculum_Research_Overview.pdf