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Abstract

In the United States, children from under-resourced communities regularly enter formal schooling lagging behind their peers in language development, reading readiness, and spatial skills. These deficits predict later mathematical and vocabulary knowledge and can persist throughout life, affecting everything from occupational attainment to health outcomes. To address these gaps, policymakers have focused largely on schooling as the great equalizer. Yet, children in Western countries only spend 20 percent of their waking hours in school and there is little attention spent helping children engage in formative experiences in the other 80 percent. Additionally, by 2050 over 70 percent of the world’s children will live in cities. How can developmental scientists, city planners, architects, and educators come together to address this “other 80 percent” of children’s waking hours in places where most children live, for the benefit of children’s development? One answer is the Learning Landscapes initiative, which marries the learning sciences with urban revitalization to craft carefully planned play experiences that focus on learning outcomes, particularly for children and families from under-resourced communities. Playful learning, a broad pedagogical approach featuring child-directed play methods, provides a unique way to foster learning and engagement organically within the built environment. Learning Landscapes capitalizes on global momentum towards placemaking and putting the user experience first in the designing of public spaces. The initiative has already demonstrated efficacy through several well-documented projects. The Ultimate Block Party brought over 50,000 people to Central Park to engage in playful learning activities. Supermarket Speak made grocery stores hotspots for caregiver-child interaction by simply adding signs with interaction prompts to everyday “trapped” environments. Urban Thinkscape transformed a bus stop and adjacent lot into a hub for playful learning while families were waiting for public transportation. Finally, Parkopolis is a life-size human board game that fosters STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and reasoning skills in public spaces. Most importantly, Learning Landscape takes a rigorous research-to-practice approach with implementation rooted in the science of learning and clear, measurable outcomes. This paper summarizes data from these Learning Landscapes projects while reflecting on lessons learned and exploring future directions.
Brenna Hassinger-Das
Andres S. Bustamante
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff
Susan Magsamen
Jenny Perlman Robinson
Rebecca Winthrop
GLOBAL ECONOMY & DEVELOPMENT
WORKING PAPER 124 | September 2018
Learning Landscapes: Can Urban Planning
and the Learning Sciences Work Together
to Help Children?
Brenna Hassinger-Das - Pace University; bhassingerdas@pace.edu
Andres S. Bustamante -University of California, Irvine; asbustam@uci.edu
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek - Temple University and The Brookings Institution; khirshpa@temple.edu
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff - University of Delaware; roberta@udel.edu
Susan Magsamen - Johns Hopkins University; smagsamen1@jhu.edu
Jenny Perlman Robinson - The Brookings Institution; jperlman@brookings.edu
Rebecca Winthrop - The Brookings Institution; rebecca.winthrop@brookings.edu
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to extend their gratitude to Jeremy Sawyer and Molly Schlesinger for their
thoughtful contributions to this work. They would also like to thank Jennifer Vey, Patrin Watanatada,
and Julien Vincelot for reviewing the paper; and those who worked hard to develop the various Learning
Landscapes pilots, including Bettye Ferguson, chief community partner on the Urban Thinkscape
intervention, and Cristina Riesen and the We are Play Lab, who made the Swiss Parkopolis possible.
This working paper shares elements with “Learning Landscapes: Playing the Way to Learning and
Engagement in Public Spaces” by Brenna Hassinger-Das, Andres S. Bustamante, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff.
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy
solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to
provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and
recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views
of the Institution, its management, or its other scholars.
Brookings recognizes that the value it provides is in its absolute commitment to quality,
independence, and impact.
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Hassinger-Das, B. et al., 2017
... One way to do so includes leveraging the typical daily experiences of caregivers and children by transforming everyday activities, such as a trip to the supermarket or laundromat (Bustamante, Hassinger-Das, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2019;Pasek, Golinkoff, Magsamen, et al., 2018; into fun learning and engagement opportunities. Since research suggests that conversations targeting literacy or mathematics topics facilitate children's cognitive development (Gunderson & Levine, 2011;Pruden, Levine, & Huttenlocher, 2011;Sheridan, Knoche, Kupzyk, Edwards, & Marvin, 2011), a promising method is to support high-quality language-based interactions. ...
... Not surprisingly though, everyday spaces for families are designed to address their primary purpose (e.g., selling groceries or washing clothes) and do not scaffold or support caregiver-child, or child-child interactions. Yet early work suggests that targeted interventions in these spaces hold promise for increasing the kinds of interactions associated with positive language, literacy, and STEM outcomes (Bustamante et al., 2019;Hassinger-Das, Bustamante, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Magsamen, et al., 2018;Hassinger-Das, Palti, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2019). ...
... The Play-and-Learn Spaces project married developmental science with the repositioning of 21st century libraries. Situated in three urban neighborhoods, the Play-and-Learn Spaces project was created by a collaborative process of design including architects, librarians, and scientists spearheading an initiative to infuse powerful high-quality caregiverchild interactions into everyday spaces (Bustamante et al., 2019;Hassinger-Das, Bustamante, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Magsamen, et al., 2018) with the input of the people already using those spaces. ...
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Modern libraries are reimagining their spaces as more than repositories for books. The Play-and-Learn Spaces project married developmental science with the changing nature of 21st century libraries. The study asked if it is possible to augment learning in informal spaces using the built environment to encourage discourse and interaction. For this project, the library space was reconstructed such that a corner became a climbing wall on which children could create words by following varied paths up the wall's letter-filled surface. Seating was transformed into large movable “Tangram”-type pieces and a stage, complete with magnetic words, invited children to create stories on the wall and complete story-related activities through socio-dramatic play. Using naturalistic observation, results demonstrated that the use of the Play-and-Learn spaces was associated with increases in the kinds of caregiver and child conversation and interaction known to support language, literacy and STEM skills. These results suggest that libraries can become part of a new learning culture that impacts city residents at the places they naturally go.
... As it focuses on learning outcomes, particularly for children and families from under-resourced communities, Playful Learning Landscapes offers a new way to involve families in the kinds of experiences that enrich relationships and enhance children's development. 1 If trends continue, almost 70 percent of the world's nearly 10 billion people will live in cities by 2050. 2 However, many cities lack play and learning outside the formal classroom. 3 Although cities are experiencing growth and even revitalization, deprivation and social inequality persist. ...
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... The Playful Learning Landscapes initiative creates play experiences for children and families in public spaces, which are designed to foster caregiver-child interactions and playful learning, based on research in the science of learning (Hassinger-Das, Bustamante, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Magsamen et al., 2018). ...
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A child’s early language skills are one of the best predictors of academic success, and a number of community interventions have aimed to increase caregiver–child interactions to improve language development and related outcomes. This article describes ongoing community efforts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aimed at enriching caregiver–child interactions during everyday moments and in community settings. These interventions target everyday spaces, such as grocery stores or bus stops, and encourage playful learning and conversations through messaging and suggested activities. Descriptions of interventions are provided, as well as initial research findings and lessons learned about program implementation and working with community partners.
... Scientific curiosity helps children become more successful problem solvers (Bjorklund & Gardiner, 2010). Urban Thinkscape produced significantly more language and parentchild interaction than a traditional playground in the same neighborhood (Hassinger-Das, Bustamante, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Magsamen et al., 2018). ...
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Rich learning opportunities in and out of school are critical for children to develop positively. Learning Landscapes is a new initiative that marries the fields of urban design and developmental science to bring playful learning opportunities to places where children and families spend time. Through this initiative, we have transformed parks, bus stops, grocery stores, and other public places into venues for playful learning interactions. In this article, we review the research on these projects, and map the vision and next steps of this initiative. By bringing learning opportunities to children and families who need it most, our goal is to equip parents and educators with the contexts and tools they need to support all children in developing the skills for success in school and life.
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The aim of this longitudinal study was to determine whether fluid reasoning (FR) plays a significant role in the acquisition of mathematics skills, above and beyond the effects of other cognitive and numerical abilities. Using a longitudinal cohort sequential design, we examined how FR measured at three assessment occasions, spaced approximately 1.5 years apart, predicted math outcomes for a group of 69 participants between ages 6 and 21 across all three assessment occasions. We used structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the direct and indirect relations between children’s prior cognitive abilities and their future math achievement. A model including age, vocabulary, and spatial skills accounted for 90% of the variance in future math achievement. In this model, FR was the only significant predictor of future math achievement; neither age, vocabulary, nor spatial skills were significant predictors. Thus, FR was the only predictor of future math achievement across a wide age range that spanned primary and secondary school. These findings build on Cattell’s conceptualization of FR (Cattell, 1987) as a scaffold for learning, showing that this domain-general ability supports the acquisition of rudimentary math skills as well as the ability to solve more complex mathematical problems.
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The goal of the present article is to synthesize findings to date from the Delaware Longitudinal Study of Fraction Learning. The study followed a large cohort of children (N = 536) between Grades 3 and 6. The findings showed that many students, especially those with diagnosed learning disabilities, made minimal growth in fraction knowledge and that some showed only a basic grasp of the meaning of a fraction even after several years of instruction. Children with low growth in fraction knowledge during the intermediate grades were much more likely to fail to meet state standards on a broad mathematics measure at the end of Grade 6. Although a range of general and mathematics-specific competencies predicted fraction outcomes, the ability to estimate numerical magnitudes on a number line was a uniquely important marker of fraction success. Many children with mathematics difficulties have deep-seated problems related to whole number magnitude representations that are complicated by the introduction of fractions into the curriculum. Implications for helping students with mathematics difficulties are discussed.