Early Learning

Early Learning Research

Research and studies increase awareness and understanding of the value of investing in young children. A large and growing body of research supports the critical relationship between childhood experiences and successful lifelong outcomes. Please note that while we provide links to a variety of reports, inclusion on this list does not constitute endorsement.

The Abecedarian Project - An Update

The Abecedarian project was a carefully controlled scientific study of the potential benefits of early childhood education for poor children. Four cohorts of individuals, born between 1972 and 1977, were randomly assigned as infants to either the early educational intervention group or the control group. Children from low-income families received full-time, high-quality educational intervention in a child care setting from infancy through age 5. 

Children who participated in the early intervention program had higher cognitive test scores from the toddler years to age 21. Academic achievement in both reading and math was higher from the primary grades through young adulthood and the children completed more years of education and were more likely to attend a four-year college. Intervention children were older, on average, when their first child was born. The cognitive and academic benefits from this program are stronger than for most other early childhood programs. Enhanced language development appears to have been instrumental in raising cognitive test scores. Mothers whose children participated in the program achieved higher educational and employment status than mothers whose children were not in the program. Finally, these results were especially pronounced for teen mothers.

Learn more about the long-term impacts from the Abecedarian project from a study of participants at age 30. 

Child Care Literature

Father reads to children

What does research say about child care subsidies? Produced by Child Trends, Child Care Subsidy Literature Review is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis Project.

Curricula and Instruction 

This What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Review focuses on early childhood education interventions (curricula and practices) designed for use in center-based settings with 3- to 5-year-old children who are not yet in kindergarten or are in preschool. The primary emphasis is on cognitive and language competencies associated with school readiness (cognition, language, literacy and math). The review includes interventions designed to improve the school readiness skills of preschool children with developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities and children who are English language learners. 

Early Learning Research Synthesis

The Synthesis of IES Research on Early Intervention and Early Childhood Education report describes what has been learned from research grants on early intervention and early childhood education funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research and published in peer-reviewed outlets through June 2010. The synthesis describes contributions to the knowledge base across four focal areas: early childhood classroom environments and general instructional practices; educational practices designed to impact children's academic and social outcomes; measuring young children's skills and learning; and professional development for early educators.

The report also raise questions for future education research including
    - What are the crucial features of high-quality early childhood education?
    - Which instruction is most effective for which children and under what circumstances?
    - How do we effectively and efficiently support teachers in improving their instruction?

Impact of Family Involvement

A report titled The Impact of Family Involvement on the Education of Children Ages 3 to 8: A Focus on Literacy and Math Achievement Outcomes and Social-Emotional Skills (Oct. 2013) summarizes research conducted primarily within the previous 10 years about  how family involvement in children's learning and development through activities at home and school affects literacy, mathematics and social-emotional skills of children ages 3 to 8. The 95 studies of family involvement that were reviewed include descriptive, nonintervention studies of actions families take at home and school as well as intervention studies of practices that guide families to conduct activities that strengthen young children's literacy and math learning. 

Interventions for Children with Disabilities 

This What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) review looks at interventions that focus primarily on outcomes associated with the school readiness of children with disabilities. The review includes outcomes in the areas of cognition, communication competencies, literacy, mathematics achievement, social-emotional development and behavior, functional abilities and motor development. The review emphasizes early childhood education interventions, such as curricula, practices and therapies, designed for use with 3- to 5-year-old children who are not yet in kindergarten and older children who attend preschool. These interventions must take place in a school or center-based preschool setting. If they take place in other locations, such as clinical settings or family homes, they must be implemented under the direction of or in collaboration with a school, preschool or program funded through the Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act (IDEA).