Intervening in the lives of young children is inevitably complex. Young children are learning language (and sometimes additional languages in addition to their native language), pre-literacy skills, social and emotional skills, impulse control, and many other skills. They are developing relationships with parents, caregivers, educators, and other adults. People who have major responsibility for young children need much more support and training to guide development in the face of this daunting complexity.
Several outstanding questions have important implications for the research needed to prepare for future updating of From Neurons to Neighborhoods, said Stipek. First, the interconnections between skills need to be better understood. How do interventions in one area affect skills in other domains? For example, very few researchers assessing the effects of interventions targeting either academic or social skills have assessed the effects of the intervention on the other domain. She expressed her view: “I strongly recommend that we look at these cross-domain effects. It will help us to understand the interconnections among domains of development and to identify those important leverage points.”
Researchers also need to develop a better understanding of what kinds of skills teachers and caregivers need and how to provide them with those skills. The focus on credentials such as academic degrees can detract from the important questions: What do people need to know and be able to do and how can these skills be developed?
The only way to convince policy makers of the need to invest in early childhood development is to convince the public, Stipek concluded. Advocates need to start where people’s hearts are, which is with their own children. They need to understand that “their child’s future depends as much on other people’s children’s future as on their own child’s future. And if they want their child to thrive, they need to make sure that they are promoting and supporting the welfare of the people [working with] their child,” she noted.
Stipek was asked during the discussion session how executive functions can be measured in preschoolers. She commented that for many domains of development there is a confusing array of overlapping and differently named measures. Stipek had begun compiling a list of measures of learning-related behaviors, but quit when she reached 30 measures. One of the things the field needs to do, she said, is develop greater consensus about the conceptualization and measurement of different domains of development.
Stipek also was asked how to provide incentives to draw the best minds into teaching young children. She answered that people need to be paid more. Care providers are not going to sacrifice the needs of their own