Tools of the Mind (Tools) is an early childhood education curriculum that aims to simultaneously promote children’s self-regulation and academic skills. Given the increasing focus on self-regulation and other social-emotional skills in educational contexts, Tools has become increasingly implemented in classrooms around the United States, Canada, and Chile. Despite its growing popularity, Tools’ evidence base remains mixed.
The aim of this review is to synthesize the evidence on the effectiveness of the Tools program in promoting children’s self-regulation and academic skills.
The systematic search was conducted from October 21 through December 3, 2016. The search yielded 176 titles and abstracts, 25 of them deemed potentially relevant. After full-text screening, 14 reports from six studies were eligible for inclusion.
In order to be included, a study must have had one or more quantitative effect sizes regarding Tools’ effectiveness in the self-regulatory or academic domains. Moreover, the study must have employed statistical mechanisms to control for potential confounds. Studies that compared Tools with a business-as-usual or another intervention were eligible for inclusion, whereas studies that did not pertain to the Tools curriculum were excluded. The reports, whether published or unpublished, could come from any national context, language, student population, or time period as long as the conditions outlined above were met.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
All included studies classified as randomized controlled trials, though, again, quasiexperimental studies had been eligible for inclusion. Each included study yielded effect sizes in the form of standardized mean differences. The outcomes of interest included assessorreported self-regulation skills (e.g., teachers or parents rating children’s self-regulation), task-based self-regulation skills (e.g., children performing a self-regulation task on a computer and receiving a score), literacy skills, and math skills. All effect sizes were interpreted as Tools’ effect relative to other business-as-usual programs or other interventions.
The evidence indicated statistically significant benefits for Tools children on the math pooled effect size. The other pooled effect sizes for self-regulation and literacy favored Tools but did not reach statistical significance.
The results indicate positive yet small effects for the Tools program. Three of the four pooled effect sizes did not reach statistical significance, but all four pooled effect sizes favored Tools. The small number of included studies reduced power, which could explain the lack of statistical significance across three of the four outcome measures. By contrast, it is also possible that Tools either does not substantially influence children’s self-regulation or that the influence is too small to be detected with the current evidence base.
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