• The Spark

Looking Forward: Conversations on Early Learning

Author:  Susan Magsamen, SVP, Early Learning, HMH  | 01/15/2016

In 2015, HMH launched Conversations on Early Learning, a four-part discussion series designed to gather key stakeholders from across the early learning space to explore the fundamental role of quality early childhood education in ensuring long-term success for all learners, regardless of background. We brought together researchers, educators, advocates, policymakers, caregivers and content providers to advance the dialogue on early learning research, policy, and initiatives. The unifying theme across events was how to bridge the gap between research and practice and prioritize opportunities for the nation’s youngest learners.

As we gear up for 2016, let’s take a moment to reflect on our learnings and look forward to the year ahead.

What We Learned

An explosion of new research and findings in the fields of neuroscience, public health, psychology, sociology, human development and education stand to revolutionize the way we understand early childhood learning.  Conversations enabled us to foster a collaborative environment and create a community built upon diverse perspectives and deep expertise. Energized by passion for change and commitment to ensuring all children and families have access to quality early learning experiences, we identified ten key facts to inform our next steps and initiatives as a larger early learning community:

  • The research shows unequivocally that engaging interaction between adults and kids in both formal and informal settings supports healthy cognitive development.
  • Quality early learning builds strong neural pathways that bolster critical thinking, cognition and language skills.
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
  • Children learn best through play and exploration.
  • A combination of guided and free play is a best practice in the classroom and at home.
  • Equal access to quality early childhood education is a bipartisan and multidisciplinary issue.
  • The early learning space is diverse and complex with no single set of national guidelines for early learning.
  • There is a need for increased professional development for early learning educators and providers.
  • Parent engagement is a critical part of the equation.
  • Learning happens, not just in schools but everywhere in communities, children museums, parks and playgrounds, even the grocery store!
  • There is agreement around the need for quality rating and improvement systems, standards and assessment, and accreditation that is supported by a strong infrastructure anchored by accountability.

The Challenge

The challenge is not only to continue the dialogue but also to think creatively about how to turn research to practice, to spur action from discussion. We need to bring stakeholders together to build greater consistency in the standards and assessment, to offer more resources and professional development for educators, providers and parents, and to build communities that not only support early learning but are also Linda Zecherengaged in the process. The challenge is enormous, but we have taken an important first step in creating a space both physical and virtual to gather best practices and share ideas and information.

Looking Forward

The work continues. In 2016, HMH will launch the second series of Conversations which will delve deeper into the issues above. The program will explore parent engagement, the needs of dual language learners, workforce development, assessment in early learning and public-private partnerships.

The critical need is to apply the research and what it has taught us to develop and implement quality programs that are available for all children. The calendar, locations and list of presenters for Conversations on Early Learning 2016 will be made available soon. We look forward to your participation and welcome your comments, ideas and support.


The Conversations on Early Learning series, which launched last year, is designed to foster collaboration and to advance the national dialogue around the fundamental role of quality early childhood education in ensuring long-term success and equal opportunity for all learners, regardless of background. Learn more here.

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