the United States may not be benefiting from the substantial body of knowledge that has accumulated about how they learn.
Few people would claim that research on young children’s learning could by itself address all of the problems in the United States’ approach to educating its youngest children. Nevertheless, research findings that have accumulated in recent decades provide a critical underpinning for improvements in policy and practice. Cognitive development in science and mathematics has received particular attention from scholars in recent years. The cognitive skills in mathematics and science displayed by young children are not only the roots of later literacy in those areas, they are also building blocks in the development of the capacity to comprehend complex relationships and reason about those relationships. Indeed, research has highlighted the importance of the link between early learning experiences and subsequent achievement (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Yet elementary school teachers observe a wide range in the children who come to them, in terms of their readiness for school in these critical areas. The deficits are most apparent in children with socioeconomic risk factors (National Research Council, 2001b).
A full discussion of the many factors that have stood in the way of the goal of providing all children with access to high-quality early education was beyond the scope of the workshop, which focused on the understanding of young children’s capacities in mathematical and science thinking and on ways to better support learning in those two areas. Recent research has explored some facets of young children’s growth in cognitive capacities that support later learning in mathematics and science, and the workshop began with an examination of some of the key results of that work.