Ms. Alyssa Signore » Tools of the Mind: Preschool Curriculum

Tools of the Mind: Preschool Curriculum

Tools in a Nutshell

Tools of the Mind is a research-based early childhood model combining teacher professional development with a comprehensive innovative curriculum that helps young children to develop the cognitive, social-emotional, self-regulatory, and foundational academic skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Tools of the Mind is designed to support the development of all young children. Tools currently serves over 30,000 children in Pre-K and K classrooms that run the gamut from small rural school districts, to large urban ones including Washington DC; and from elite private schools, to publicly funded programs serving children from low-resource families.


The Approach

Tools of the Mind gives teachers the tools to ensure every child becomes a successful learner, developing the underlying cognitive, social and emotional skills needed to reach his or her highest potential.  Melding Vygotskian theory with cutting edge neuroscience research, Tools is a unique approach to teaching and learning with research demonstrated outcomes for children and teachers.

Tools of the Mind is based upon a specific set of beliefs about how children develop and learn. Tools instructional interactions are designed to help teachers be more effective in identifying teachable moments, assessing children’s development and differentiating instruction. Tools teachers focus on helping children become intentional and reflective learners, creating a classroom in which instruction in literacy, mathematics and science reflect children’s learning capacity, rather than age-level expectations.

Tools combines a comprehensive early childhood curriculum with an innovative approach to teacher professional development to effectively transform early childhood teaching and learning, and improve child outcomes.


The Approach in Action: Pre-K

In a Tools PreK classroom, a play theme unifies the room. The year begins with adaptable play themes close to children’s lives, and over the course of the year, as children’s levels of make-believe play, self-regulation and executive functions develop, the play themes develop as well. In a classroom in Maine, a lobster pound was a favorite center; in another classroom in Washington D.C., a convenience store with a ‘Redbox’ and an ATM machine was a favorite center. Teachers construct themes with children. Children help make the props and signs, and teachers read books to build children’s knowledge of what people do and say in different themed settings. Intentional make-believe play is the heart of a Tools of the Mind Pre-K classroom, but there’s lots more going on in a day! Children engage in activities designed to support the development of literacy, math and science skills at the same time as self-regulation and executive functions skills are developed. Most learning takes place in small groups and partnered activities, engaging children in interacting with one another to learn, build social relationships and create a positive classroom culture.

Play Planning is a good example of the Tools approach to designing activities to develop foundational executive functions and self-regulation skills, at the same time as core academic skills are developed. Tools activities, like Play Planning, are multi-level, designed to challenge and support each child at his own level.  Children who are developing typically and those who have special needs are engaged in the same activity, performing at a challenge level appropriate to each child.

In Play Planning, children plan their play before playing in centers. A Play Plan typically describes the role and actions a child will engage in during the first few minutes of intentional make-believe play. This initial plan helps children act purposefully–-the first step to becoming self-regulated learners.

Play Plans also support children’s literacy development. As children plan their play, they draw a picture of their plan that helps them remember what they are going to do. For Vygotskian, drawing is an important precursor to writing. These drawings gradually become more representational as children use their pictures to review previous plans, and discuss their plans with other children. As children learn more about literacy, they begin to represent their intentions using the Tools approach to writing: Scaffolded Writing