A systematic review of unstructured nature play in early childhood development

A systematic review of unstructured nature play in early childhood development

By Jun Wang, Johns Hopkins University

Physical activities are important to facilitate children’s development. A recent systematic review by a team from the University of South Australia investigated whether playing in nature-based spaces could be beneficial for child health and development. Quantitative studies of children aged 2-12 years without health or developmental conditions examining unstructured nature play were included. The review identified 16 studies involving 711 children.

Due to the diversity in study methods, the research applied descriptive synthesis. The outcome measures covered different domains including physical activity, motor, cognitive, and social emotional development. Despite the various measures in outcomes, results showed consistent positive impacts of nature play on physical activity outcomes and cognitive play behaviors. However, five out of seven studies reported no significant differences regarding to physical activity in nature play compared to traditional play space experiences. The authors also expressed their concerns when interpreting the findings, which includes the evidence-base quality, the range of intervention descriptions, and the non-standardized nature of outcome measures. Further work is needed to understand the relationship between nature play and student outcomes.

Effects of an extracurricular science program on science understanding and motivation

Effects of an extracurricular science program on science understanding and motivation

By Marta Pellegrini, University of Florence, Italy

“Young Researchers–We Work Like Scientists” is a short-term science program for elementary school students aimed at promoting the understanding of science and students’ motivation. The intervention is part of a larger program used in Germany with talented elementary school students. It consists of 10 extracurricular lessons during which students are provided with challenging problem-solving activities and inquiry tasks.

A study published by the Journal of Educational Psychology evaluated the effectiveness of this program with 310 third- and fourth-grade students in German schools who received the 10 lessons once a week for 90 minutes. The authors used measures closely aligned with the program curriculum to assess inquiry competencies as well as measures made by other researchers to assess student understanding of science and student motivation.

Results of the study showed significantly higher inquiry competencies for the intervention students on a measure aligned with the program and made by the authors. No significant results were found on the other measures of science understanding (epistemic beliefs, epistemic curiosity, and need for cognition) or student motivation. Differential gender effects were found with higher scores for girls on the epistemic beliefs measure than for boys.

These mixed findings show that while the “Young Researchers” intervention improves inquiry skills trained during the program, other studies are needed in order to investigate the effects on other skills with more generalized measures.

The effects of school-wide interventions on school climate

The effects of school-wide interventions on school climate

By Sooyeon Byun, Johns Hopkins University

Charlton and colleagues reviewed various types of school-wide interventions promoting students’ and teachers’ perception of school climate regarding engagement (quality of relationship), safety (the absence of aggression, bullying, and violence), and environment (quality of physical school environment). Only peer-reviewed studies published between 1989 and 2019 were included in this review.

The total of 26 studies (28 papers) were identified, including 18 studies on elementary students, 7 studies on middle school students, and 2 studies in mixed school settings. More than 60% of the studies were randomized controlled trials. The included programs were categorized into five subcategories: social–emotional learning, schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports, bullying prevention, community development, and teacher working conditions programs. Among the five subcategories, effect sizes for Schoolwide PBIS (a behaviour management approach) (ES=+0.61, 95% CI = [0.39, 0.83]) and SEL (ES=+0.48, 95% CI = [0.17, 0.79]) were the largest, followed by community development (ES=+0.42, 95% CI = [0.13, 0.71]), and bullying prevention programs (ES=+0.27, 95% CI = [0.14, 0.40]). A single study on a teacher working conditions program didn’t show any discernable effects on school climate. Although the effect sizes are not large, this study supports the idea that schoolwide interventions can improve school climate.

Are computer-supported literacy interventions effective for young children?

Are computer-supported literacy interventions effective for young children?

By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University

Computer-assisted learning (CAL) is gaining popularity due to its promise of cost-effectiveness, individualized approach, and enhanced engagement. However, before incorporating CAL in traditional classrooms, it is important to understand the effectiveness of CAL. Recent research, published in Educational Research Review, presents a meta-analysis on computer-supported early literacy interventions in preschool and kindergarten settings to provide some insights into the overall effect and determinants of CAL.

Including only randomized trials and quasi-experimental designs, Ludo Verhoeven and his colleagues selected 59 qualified and rigorous studies, which involved a total of 6786 preschool and kindergarten students. The outcomes of interest were children’s phonological awareness and reading-related skills in alphabetic languages. Statistical analysis showed that computer-supported early literacy interventions, on average, had small but positive and statistically important effects on learning outcomes (ES = +0.28, 95% CI [0.21, 0.35]). This effect size was smaller than those found in previous meta-analyses that investigated teacher-supported early literacy interventions, which lends evidence to a plausible conclusion that teachers are more effective than computers in enhancing literacy skills in early childhood development.

Moreover, effect sizes in different studies vary widely, ranging from -0.92 to +2.10. A closer look at moderators of the treatment effects reveals that integrated learning systems increase children’s phonological awareness greatly. The authors recommend that schools integrate curriculum with technology-enhanced early literacy interventions to produce better outcomes. Lastly, effect sizes were larger in quasi-experimental studies compared to randomized trials, demonstrating that more rigorous methods give smaller effect sizes.