Approaches to Early Learning: High/Scope

John Noble

Early learning strategies are as varied as they are innovative. Over the course of several posts, we’re taking a step back to examine the core characteristics of the many pedagogical approaches to early childhood education and examine their impact and reliance on space. While this series won’t provide a comprehensive examination of the history and evolution of early learning strategies, it will provide high-level insights that allow for the appreciation of the varied learning approaches.

High/Scope – A Focus on Hands-On Learning

High/Scope is grounded in the idea that children learn through direct experiences with their surroundings. The High/Scope curriculum specifically emphasizes the development of the whole child with a focus on strengthening cognitive skills. This is done actively with hands-on learning experiences that promote positive interactions between adults and peers.

“This cognitively oriented curriculum [of High/Scope] is founded on the belief that children cannot understand themselves without first being able to place themselves in time and space and to classify and order objects and events.” (Weikart, Rogers, Adcock, & McClelland)


One of the most visible elements of High/Scope is the system by which the teachers encourage children to develop intentional learning by beginning each day working in small groups to identify an agenda for themselves, executing that agenda or workplan over the course of the day and then gathering together as a group to evaluate their relative success in accomplishing their goals before the day is over.

This three-step process is among the most unique characteristics of High/Scope. Indeed, the HighScope Organization shares that the efficacy of the plan-do-review cycle is proven by research showing that planning and reviewing (instead of just “doing”) are positively and significantly associated with children’s scores on measures of developmental progress.

Centers-Based Instruction

High/Scope students spend the majority of their day in a home-room. The room contains a typical set of activity “centers” which the students can utilize at their discretion and in accordance with their daily work plan. The centers include (but are not limited to):

  • A group circle
  • Manipulables
  • Sand and water
  • Dramatic play areas
  • Reading spaces
  • An area with tables and chairs
  • Cubbies for personal storage
  • Hand washing centers

Family Engagement

High/Scope developed out of an effort to create a more effective learning environment for children from high poverty backgrounds and recognizes the critical role that family members play in the development of the child.

For this reason, there is a tremendous amount of effort put forth to engage with family members and primary caregivers, from personal greetings in the morning to impromptu conversations to touch-bases in the afternoons to availability of family resources and assistance throughout the school.

Each family often has a dedicated case manager who assists them and their teacher as they navigate the challenges that life throws at them. Finally, a high priority is placed on the development of a sense of community and fostering friendships among all members of the school.

Interested in learning more about unique early learning strategies and their impact on space? Explore the other entries in our “Approaches to Early Learning” series with overviews on Montessori and Reggio Emilia.

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