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The HighScope early childhood education approach, used in preschool, kindergarten, childcare, or elementary school settings, was developed in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1970. It is now common there and in some other countries.

The philosophy behind HighScope is based on child development theory and research, originally drawing on the work of Jean Piaget and John Dewey. Since then, the HighScope Curriculum has evolved to include the findings of ongoing cognitive-developmental and brain research. In its teaching practices, the HighScope Curriculum draws upon the work of developmental psychologist and educator Lev Vygotsky, especially the strategy of adult scaffolding — supporting children at their current developmental level and helping them build upon it — in a social setting where children have opportunities to choose materials, ideas, and people to interact within the projects they initiate.[1][non-primary source needed] The adults working with the children see themselves more as facilitators or partners than as managers or supervisors.


As director of special services in the Ypsilanti, (Michigan) public school district, David Weikart became increasingly interested in the academic performance of a number of at-risk children from poor neighborhoods. He found that these students tend to do poorly on district-wide, standardized tests and also receive low scores in IQ assessments.

Weikart brought together, and collaborated with, a committee of elementary education leaders that included Perry School's Charles Eugene Beatty, Michigan's first African-American principal. Known as the Perry Preschool Project (1962), members discussed possible changes to teaching methods and curriculum choices. Even though they did not expect to radically change Ypsilanti's teaching core (which mostly worked), they explored why it seemingly failed a certain population of students.

While searching for better teaching methods and programs, Weikart (now also part of a special services committee tackling the same issue), zeroed in on programs for three- and four-year-olds. Outside the normal organization of the school district, Weikart hired four teachers and began operation of a preschool at Perry Elementary School.[2][non-primary source needed]

Weikart and Perry School's teachers and staff chose to differ from traditional nursery school settings by designing a program that focused on a child's intellectual maturation rather than a child's social and emotional advances. They wanted a program that:

  1. Possessed a firm, legitimate bed of theory for teaching/learning
  2. Supported the child's talents through an active process of learning; and
  3. Relied on teachers, administrators, and families to support the success of the program.

Effectiveness of the program[edit]

The HighScope Perry Preschool Project was evaluated in a randomized controlled trial of 123 children (58 were randomly assigned to a treatment group that received the program and a control group of 65 children that did not). Prior to the program, the preschool and control groups were equivalent in measures of intellectual performance and demographic characteristics. After the program the educational and life outcomes for the children receiving the program were much superior to outcomes for the children not receiving the program. Many of the program outcomes were significant or approaching significance.[3][4]

Educational outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 27 follow-up

  • Completed an average of almost 1 full year more of schooling (11.9 years vs. 11 years)
  • Spent an average of 1.3 fewer years in special education services — e.g., for mental, emotional, speech, or learning impairment (3.9 years vs. 5.2 years)
  • 44 percent higher high school graduation rate (66% vs. 45%)

Pregnancy outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 27 follow-up

  • Much lower proportion of out-of-wedlock births (57% vs. 83%)
  • Fewer teen pregnancies on average (0.6 pregnancies/woman vs. 1.2 pregnancies/woman) (not significant <.05)[3]

Lifetime criminal activity for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 46 percent less likely to have served time in jail or prison (28% vs. 52%)
  • 33 percent lower arrest rate for violent crimes (32% vs. 48%)

Economic outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 42 percent higher median monthly income ($1,856 vs. $1,308)
  • 26 percent less likely to have received government assistance (e.g. welfare, food stamps) in the past ten years (59% vs. 80%)

Overall, a study documented a return to society of more than $16 for every tax dollar invested in the early care and education program.[5][6][non-primary source needed] Heckman et al 2010 finds a lower benefit of $9.2 back on the dollar, mostly due to lower benefits from less crime (table 8).[7] See also Heckman, Moon, Pinto, Savelyev, & Yavitz (2010a, b).[8][9]

Central concepts[edit]

  • Active learning
The HighScope Curriculum emphasizes active participatory learning. Active learning means students have direct, hands-on experiences with people, objects, events, and ideas. Children's interests and choices are at the heart of the HighScope programs. They construct their own knowledge through interactions with the world and the people around them. In active learning settings, adults expand children's thinking with diverse materials and nurturing interactions.[2][non-primary source needed]
  • Learning environment
A HighScope school classroom is divided into well-defined interest areas that typically include a house area, art area, block area, toy area, and other areas that reflect the children's interests. Children are able to access all facilities independently as well as take some responsibility for use of these areas.
  • Daily routine
HighScope classrooms follow a predictable sequence of events called the daily routine. The daily routine in a HighScope classroom includes plan-do-review, small and large-group times, outside time, transition times, and eating and resting times.[10][non-primary source needed]
  • Plan-do-review
A key component of the HighScope approach is the plan-do-review sequence. Children first plan what materials they want to work with, what they want to do, and whom they want to do it with (this can be done formally or informally in small groups). Once they have made a plan, however vague, of what they want to do, they can go and do it. Then, after this chosen worktime, the children discuss what they did and whether it was the same as, or different from, what they had planned.
  • Adult-child interaction
Shared control between adults and children is central to the HighScope Curriculum. In addition to sharing control, adults in a HighScope classroom participate in children's play, converse as partners with them, focus on children's strengths and offer them support, and encourage children's problem solving.[2][non-primary source needed]
  • Key developmental indicators
The HighScope Curriculum is organized into eight content areas: (1) approaches to learning; (2) language, literacy, and communication; (3) social and emotional development; (4) physical development and health; (5) mathematics; (6) science and technology; (7) social studies; and (8) creative arts. Within these content areas are 58 key developmental indicators (KDIs). The KDIs are statements of observable behaviors that define the important learning areas for young children. HighScope teachers keep these indicators in mind when they set up the learning environment and plan activities.[2][non-primary source needed]
  • Assessment
HighScope assesses children's development with comprehensive observations. HighScope teachers record daily anecdotes describing what children do and say. Several times a year, teachers review these anecdotes and rate each child using an assessment tool that is organized into six areas of development. These scores help the teachers design developmentally appropriate learning opportunities and can be used to explain children's progress during conferences. [10][non-primary source needed]
  • Conflict Resolution
HighScope has a six-step process that can be used to help children resolve conflicts that may arise during their day.
Step 1. Approach the situation calmly.
Observe the situation, approach the children with a calm voice, and sit with them on the floor. Stop any hurtful behavior if necessary.
Step 2. Acknowledge children’s feelings.
Describe the feeling you observe and the details of what you see.
Step 3. Gather information.
Ask open-ended questions, directing your questions to one child, then another.
Step 4. Restate the problem.
Based on what the children say, clarify the problem and check your statement with the children.
Step 5. Ask for ideas for solutions and choose one together.
Encourage children to talk to each other. Be prepared to give suggestions. When children arrive at a solution, restate it and check with them to make sure they are in agreement.
Step 6. Be prepared to give follow-up support.
Sometimes solutions need clarifying as the children begin to play again.
(Hohmann, Weikart, & Epstein, 2008)[non-primary source needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Epstein, A. S. Essentials of active learning in preschool. HighScope Press, 2007
  2. ^ a b c d Hohmann, M., Weikart, D. P., & Epstein, A. S. Educating young children (3rd. ed.), HighScope Press, 2008
  3. ^ a b Significant Benefits, The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 27
  4. ^ Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Social Programs That Work: Perry Preschool Project
  5. ^ An Economic Analysis of the Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project,(Monographs of High/Scope Educ. Res. Found., No 5), C. U. Webber, Phillips Foster, David Weikart, 1978
  6. ^ Sparks, P., & Schweinhart, L., "Audio news briefing on the HighScope Perry Preschool Study age 40" Archived 2013-05-21 at the Wayback Machine., 2004
  7. ^ Heckman, James J.; Moon, Seong Hyeok; Pinto, Rodrigo; Savelyev, Peter A.; Yavitz, Adam (2010). "The Rate of Return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program". Journal of Public Economics. 94 (1–2): 114–128. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2009.11.001. PMC 3145373. PMID 21804653.
  8. ^ "Analyzing Social Experiments as Implemented: A Reexamination of the Evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  9. ^ "The Rate of Return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  10. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". highscope.org. Retrieved 2017-05-25.


  • Hohmann, M., Weikart, D., & Epstein, A. S. (2008). Educating young children (3rd ed.). Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
  • "What Is the History of HighScope?" - Provided by YMCA Child Care Services
  • Schweinhart, L. J., Barnes, H. V., & Weikart, D. P. (1993). Significant benefits: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study through age 27. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.
  • Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2004). Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study through age 40. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press.

External links[edit]