and strategies that will help them to make the best use of the time they can spend on mathematics and science.
As Nora Newcombe and other presenters pointed out, the last several decades of developmental research have resulted in the recognition that young children and even infants are capable of more sophisticated thinking and learning than was once assumed. Modern research in developmental psychology describes unexpected competencies in young children and calls into question models of development based on Piaget, which suggested that children were unable to carry out sophisticated cognitive tasks, such as perspective taking or measuring (Gelman and Brenneman, 2004; Newcombe, 2002; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). As noted in the National Research Council report Eager to Learn:
More recent research has led many to reinterpret the stage theorists’ views; there is strong evidence that children, when they have accumulated substantial knowledge, have the ability to abstract well beyond what is ordinarily observed. Indeed, the striking feature of modern research is that it describes unexpected competencies in young children, key features of which appear to be universal. These data focus attention on the child’s exposure to learning opportunities, calling into question simplistic conceptualizations of developmentally appropriate practice that do not recognize the newly understood competencies of very young children, and they highlight the importance of individual differences in children, their past experiences, and their present contexts (2001b, p. 5).
With recognition of these early competencies has come a reassessment of what children are capable of learning in the early years and how adults can best support this learning. For example, Rochel Gelman’s discussion of the Preschool Pathways in Science program suggests that specific instruction in biology supported the development of children’s ability to identify and sort animals and plants into appropriate categories and describe the features they used to carry out the sorting. As Gelman’s example illustrates, the implications of advances in developmental research for mathematics and science learning in early childhood settings are profound. Working within a Piagetian framework, many early childhood educators were led to conclude that pushing children to undertake complex tasks in mathematic and science was fruitless. Children simply were not ready to think in scientific and mathematical ways. Evidence of early competence, especially where the development of such competence can be enhanced through instructional interventions, turns this kind of assumption on its head.
Some researchers point out, however, that simply demonstrating early competence does not provide a picture of the developmental processes involved in attaining such competency, nor the ways in which early competency serves as a foundation for later developments (Haith and Benson, 1998; Keil, 1998 cited in Kuhn, 2000; Ginsburg and Golbeck, 2004). Newcombe’s presentation offered an example in the spatial and quantitative domains of how studies can be drawn