Using Research on Early Childhood Development and Education

Why Is Research So Important?

Research gives early childhood practitioners and policymakers essential knowledge to use in making decisions on behalf of young children and families. The goal is to integrate the best available research evidence with the wisdom and values of professionals and families [Buysse, V., & Wesley, P.W. (Eds.)(2006). Evidence-based practice in the early childhood field. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.] 

NAEYC supports the use of relevant, well-designed research to develop and evaluate early childhood services, and to better understand young children’s development and learning. NAEYC is committed to

  • sharing research knowledge with its members and other early childhood professionals;
  • helping early childhood educators understand and use research;
  • promoting collaboration between practitioners and researchers;
  • encouraging researchers to conduct high quality studies that answer important questions for the early childhood field;
  • using research to influence public policy; and
  • promoting the development of a new generation of early childhood researchers.

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What Is "Good" Research?

Just as when buying a car or finding a quality child care program, consumers of research must be well-informed. Here are some guidelines:

Much agreement exists about the overall characteristics of high quality research. For example, such research should: 

  • Pose an important question that can be investigated empirically and that contributes to the knowledge base.
  • Build on relevant theory and previous research (as seen in detailed references to others' work).
  • Take an independent, balanced, and objective approach to the research.
  • Use research methods that are well-suited to the specific question that is being investigated. No single method or type of research is best in all situations.
  • Give enough information about the methods so that other researchers could reproduce or replicate the study.
  • Evaluate alternative explanations for the findings.
  • Submit to a process of review by other knowledgeable researchers ("peer review").

Online Guidelines and Resources are available to help early childhood professionals become well- informed consumers of research.

Ethical Standards for Research are critically important when conducting research with young children and other vulnerable populations.

Checklist: Is the research useful?

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Where Can I Find Research on Early Childhood Development and Education?

Where to look depends somewhat on your purpose and on your professional role. Are you a researcher, a teacher, a trainer, a graduate student, a program director, a policymaker? Are you looking for a quick summary on a topic, or for in-depth information? Are you looking for actual reports of single pieces of research, or for summaries or syntheses of a group of studies on the same topic? Fortunately, many resources are available both in publications and on the Internet. But not all resources are of equal value. The links below may help:

NAEYC Resources

Other Web Resources to consider

Research Syntheses and Reviews

Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Journals

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How Do I Become an Informed Advocate for Research on Early Childhood Development and Education?

Children benefit when research is used appropriately and thoughtfully, combined with the insights of experienced practitioners to create what has been called "evidence-based practice." Although there are obstacles to finding and using research effectively, much can be done to move toward "evidence-based professional practice."

(Fleishman, S. 2006. Research Matters:  Moving To Evidence Based Professional Practice. Educational Leadership, March 2006, Volume 63, Number 6)

Action steps:

  • Encourage colleagues to read critically, think about, and apply relevant research in their work with children and families. Teacher study groups can be interesting and enjoyable ways to create a "community of learners" around research discussions.
  • If you are a teacher or teacher educator, encourage and participate in  "teacher research," teachers’ own systematic and sustained study of some aspect of teaching and learning with young children and their families. High quality teacher research is grounded in the daily lives of children and based on the insights of the teachers or caregivers who work with them.
  • Find the researchers in your community (e.g., at a local university) and talk with them about their work and about the questions you need answers to as a practitioner. Collaborative relationships and networking may develop from these discussions. At conferences, attend research-related sessions, sharing your reactions and experiences with researchers.
  • Be open to reconsidering your own position, policies, or practices in light of a body of new research (while not jumping on every new bandwagon or being swayed by one new study)
  • Avoid misusing research. For example, do not pick and choose only those studies that support a particular position, while ignoring what may be stronger evidence on the other side.
  • If you are a researcher, consider what research questions may be the most important to investigate. What will make a difference for young children and families? When planning and conducting your research, consider how to collaborate with practitioners or policymakers, whose perspectives may help make your plans valid and realistic. When your research is ready to disseminate, consider multiple audiences and outlets (for example, publishing in both scientific journals and practice-oriented publications).