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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
WORKING PAPER 124 | September 2018
Learning Landscapes: Can Urban Planning
and the Learning Sciences Work Together
to Help Children?
Brenna Hassinger-Das - Pace University;
Andres S. Bustamante -University of California, Irvine;
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek - Temple University and The Brookings Institution;
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff - University of Delaware;
Susan Magsamen - Johns Hopkins University;
Jenny Perlman Robinson - The Brookings Institution;
Rebecca Winthrop - The Brookings Institution;
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.
Control Site Urban Thinkscape
Pre-test Post-test
0 1-5 6-10 11+ 0 1-5 6-10 11+
Control Site Urban Thinkscape
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... 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. ...
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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Playful Learning Landscapes seeks to transform everyday spaces into playful learning opportunities to maximize “the other 80 percent” of time that children spend outside school. It lies at the intersection of the growing Child Friendly City movement and a global development agenda that calls for access to high-quality early childhood education for all. A joint project of Temple University’s Infant and Child Laboratory and the Brookings Institution, Playful Learning Landscapes is a broad umbrella initiative that marries community involvement and learning sciences with placemaking in order to design carefully curated playful experiences in everyday spaces. 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. This report documents the scaling journey to date of Philadelphia Playful Learning Landscapes (PPLL) and the lessons learned, to help inform further expansion in Philadelphia and with adaptation and adoption by other cities and countries. Lessons are targeted toward city-level actors—policymakers, implementers, researchers, and funders in Philadelphia and beyond—who wish to expand and sustain evidence-based approaches that foster learning and caregiver–child interactions in public spaces and everyday spaces where people regularly go and can be easily engaged. The aim is to move beyond supporting the replication of a single installation, to shaping the mainstream practices of business, government, and other organizations to incorporate playful learning principles and design into their own work.
... 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). ...
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). ...
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.
Families make important contributions to children’s learning across multiple developmental domains by providing quality educational experiences in the home and community. Until now, it was unknown what resources low-income families provide at home and in their communities to support early childhood science education and how families’ own self-efficacy and beliefs about science and background characteristics relate to the opportunities they provide. The present study interviewed 300 parents, diverse in race/ethnicity, of Head Start children ages 4–5 years about the opportunities they provided in their home and community to support early science learning. In addition, families completed the Attitudes Toward Science Survey to identify their self-efficacy and beliefs about science. Results identified wide variation in the resources families provided in the home (e.g., toys, books, technology) and in the community (e.g., visits to park, nature center, zoo); families with more positive beliefs and higher self-efficacy for science were more likely to offer materials at home and access community resources to support science learning. In addition, child gender, family ethnicity and home language explained some of the variation in family supports for science. Implications of this work point to important investments in science education to be made by schools which leverage what families do at home.
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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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This study compares the early life experiences of kindergarteners in 1998 and 2010 using two nationally representative data sets. We find that (a) young children in the later period are exposed to more books and reading in the home, (b) they have more access to educational games on computers, and (c) they engage with their parents more, inside and outside the home. Although these increases occurred among low- and high-income children, in many cases the biggest changes were seen among the lowest-income children. Our results indicate narrowing but still large early childhood parental investment gaps. In addition, socioeconomic gaps in preschool participation grew over this period, despite substantial investments in public preschool. Implications for early socioeconomic achievement gaps are discussed.
Parental attitudes shape play opportunities afforded to children in home, community, and school settings. This study presents evaluation of an intervention designed to enrich parent's conception of play and its relationship with socially valued skills and capacities. On the basis of data from 291 racially and ethnically diverse parents/caregivers of young children (median age between 3 and 6) attending an event in NYC, we find the intervention helped parents conceptualize play in complex ways and altered perceptions of its impact on children's current-but not future-lives. Multivariate analyses reveal the causal pathway for these changes as exposure to multiple play sites, rather than time at the event-a finding with direct implications for exposing parents to developmental science in community settings.
Mind in the Making and Vroom are partner initiatives that exemplify a unique "civic science" approach to "bringing developmental science into the world." Mind in the Making offers families and professionals working with children 0-8 access to developmental research, by engaging them in an active process of professional development and community outreach. Vroom is an outreach and communication initiative that brings "brain building basics" to communities, inviting parents to participate in the science of early learning through partnerships with trusted entities. These initiatives use collaborative, iterative processes in disseminating findings and implications of child development research. Preliminary evidence shows early promise of these initiatives to help promote engaged learning and life skills based on executive function in adults and children.
Strong language skills are critical for developing literacy, social skills, mathematics, and executive function skills. However, homes and classrooms often do not provide the key elements necessary for improving children’s language outcomes. After reviewing the evidence for the six principles of language development—which have been distilled from the language science literature—this article describes an educational intervention that was designed using these principles as a foundation. The Read–Play–Learn project is used as a model to demonstrate how the application of the six principles of language development provides a guiding blueprint for implementing language science in the real world. Barriers to application are also discussed alongside recommendations for future research expanding the use of the six principles of language development beyond the classroom and into homes and community settings.
Embodied trainings allowing children to move their whole body in space have recently been shown to foster and support the acquisition of basic numerical competencies (e.g., magnitude understanding, addition performance). Although embodied trainings studies varied in aspects such as training content, control training, addressed age group, or the amount of movement involved, they yielded very similar results: The embodied trainings not only led to specific improvements in the content trained, but also improved children’s performance in transfer tasks (e.g., addition or counting) that were not trained directly. Following a brief summary of recent embodied training studies, we integrate the respective results into a unified model framework to elucidate the working mechanisms of embodied trainings: Mapping processes, interaction between different regions of personal space, and the integration of different spatial frames of reference are addressed as potential factors underlying the effectiveness of embodied numerical trainings. Such an integrating view on these recent training studies also allows us to evaluate under which circumstances embodied trainings work best, that is, for which age group and/or which numerical content embodied trainings should be most beneficial. Finally, we draw conclusions about when and how such trainings may be applied by teachers and educators.
This study explored differences in caregiver-child interactions following children's information-seeking questions. Naturalistic speech from thirty-seven 4-year-olds and their caregivers was used to explore children's information-seeking questions, the caregiver's response, and children's subsequent follow-up. Half of the families were low-socioeconomic status (SES) and the other half were mid-SES. Although children across socioeconomic groups asked a similar proportion of questions, mid-SES caregivers offered significantly more explanatory responses to causal questions as well as more noncircular explanations than low-SES caregivers. No differences were found in children's follow-up to responses given to fact-based questions; however, after hearing unsatisfactory responses to causal questions, mid-SES children were significantly more likely to provide their own explanation. Such variability in caregiver-child interaction may have implications for subsequent learning.
We have many reasons to invest in preschool programs, including persistent gaps in school readiness between children from poorer and wealthier families, large increases in maternal employment over the past several decades, and the rapid brain development that preschoolage children experience. But what do we know about preschool education’s effectiveness? In this article, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christina Weiland, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn report strong evidence that preschool boosts children’s language, literacy, and math skills in the short term; it may also reduce problem behaviors such as aggression. Over the elementary school years, however, test scores of children who were exposed to preschool tend to converge with the scores of children who were not. Many factors may explain this convergence. For example, kindergarten or first-grade teachers may focus on helping children with lower levels of skills get up to speed, or children may lose ground when they transition from high-quality preschools into poor-quality elementary programs. Taking a longer view, some studies have found that attending preschool boosts children’s high school graduation rates and makes them less likely to engage in criminal behavior. Overall, higher-quality preschool programs are associated with larger effects. How might preschools produce larger effects that last longer? Developmentally focused curricula, combined with intensive in-service training or coaching for teachers, have been shown to improve the quality of preschool instruction. Focusing on fundamental skills that both predict long-term outcomes and are less likely to be gained in the first years of school might also produce longer-lasting effects. And improving instructional quality in early elementary school and better aligning the preschool and elementary curricula may be another way to sustain the boost that quality preschool education can provide. Above all, the authors write, if we want to see sustained improvements in children’s development and learning, we need to increase the quality of-not just access to-preschool education. © 2016, Center for the Future of Children. All rights reserved.
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.