Science of Learning and Development in Practice

Group of young people holding handsThe science of learning and development is an emerging, cross-disciplinary body of knowledge that tells us how young people learn and develop. It presents many powerful lessons that can transform education systems, advance equity, and can help every young person thrive. This body of knowledge comes from the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance, a partnership of leading education research, practice, and policy organizations. The SoLD Alliance describes five components that are essential for young people to learn, develop, and thrive:

  1. Positive developmental relationships
  2. Environments filled with safety and belonging
  3. Rich learning experiences
  4. Development of critical skills, mindsets, and habits
  5. Integrated support systems

AIR partnered with seven national youth-serving organizations to learn about how they are aligning the practice components from the science of learning and development to their organizational and program practices. Organizations included 4-H, Camp Fire, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Playworks, Outward Bound, Student Conservation Association, and NatureBridge.

Putting the Science into Practice: Community Programs Supporting Whole Child Development

Community programs are diverse in terms of where, when, how, and with whom they operate. But the shared components of all community programs are the same ones that science tells us are critical for learning and development: Community programs offer safety and belonging, and foster rich developmental relationships among peers as well as with the adults who staff the program. In this brief, we describe the essential components for whole child learning and development, and share examples of how community programs are putting that science into practice.

The Science of Learning and Development in Action in 4-H

In this interactive report, we describe 4-H’s new initiative, Opportunity4All, which prioritizes sparks, belonging, relationships, and youth voice to address the opportunity gap. We also align these priorities with the science of learning and development.

The Camp Fire Journey: Strong Relationships for Thriving Youth

Camp Fire, an inclusive, national youth development organization, cultivates strong and supportive relationships with youth by harnessing the science of learning and development and their extensive experience working with young people. In a compelling resource for funders, Camp Fire showcases their approach to relationship-building including transforming relationships by using a research-based framework, keeping equity at the forefront of relationships, equipping staff with essential skills and practices, and more.

Supporting Adult Capacity Through Organizational Practices at Boys & Girls Clubs of America

In this brief, we highlight findings from the science of learning and development that underscore the critical role adults play in supporting young people’s learning and development. We describe Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s efforts to build adult capacity and share lessons learned from BGCA’s investment in their staff who work with young people.

Playworks: The Power of Play

AIR and Playworks collaborated to identify the essential Playworks practices and strategies and align them with the practice components of the science of learning and development. Playworks’ core insight is that safe and healthy play can support any child’s positive development. By creating opportunities for inclusive and active play, elementary school educators and families can tap children’s intrinsic motivation to have fun and reap cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits. In this brief, we summarize (1) what we know from the science makes for effective learning and development and (2) how Playworks supports safe and healthy play.

Nature-based Youth Programs: Outward Bound USA, Student Conservation Association, and NatureBridge

  1. Nature-Based Youth Programs: Why They Matter for Youth Learning and Development. High-quality nature-based youth programs can provide learning environments and experiences that align with what we know about how young people learn and develop best. In addition to increased access to the benefits of being outside and active, nature-based youth programs provide young people with deep learning experiences, meaningful relationships, and the opportunity to grow themselves as empowered leaders.
  2. Nature-Based Youth Programs: Defining Robust Equity and Inclusion. Nature-based youth programs must come to terms with the historic and present-day inequities that limit full access to outdoor learning opportunities for many youth. This brief outlines ways that nature-based organizations are committing to robust equity today, as well as the barriers that still remain.
  3. Nature-Based Youth Programs: Building Adult Capacity. In nature-based youth programs, providing deep and equitable learning experiences for participating young people depends on the capacity of the adult staff. This brief outlines the staffing considerations and structures organizations must address to align themselves with the science of learning and development, including: staff preparation, workforce pipelines, cultural competence, and continuous quality improvement.

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