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Tools of the Mind


Program Description

Tools of the Mind is a professional development and comprehensive early childhood (PreK and Kindergarten) program that  embeds development of executive functions and self-regulation into the design of all teaching and learning activities. The program leverages make-believe play and a classroom culture of co-regulation and peer scaffolding to build children’s foundational skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and science while at the same time promoting pro-social behaviors and positive approaches to learning. Tools of the Mind aims to empower teachers with the understandings and tools they need to create positive classroom cultures, facilitate intentional playful learning, and support the development of self-regulated learners who achieve to their full potential––closing the achievement gap for low income, minority and dual language learner students.

Program Outcomes

An independent evaluation of Tools of the Mind Kindergarten program using a cluster randomized design was conducted by New York University (Blair & Raver, 2014; Blair, McKinnon, & Daneri 2018). Twenty-nine Massachusetts schools in 12 districts were randomly assigned to Tools of the Mind (n=16) or business-as-usual control groups (n=13). 15% of the schools were high-poverty with more than 75% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch with 50% of schools being low-poverty. The remaining schools ranged from 27% to 68% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. 73% of students were White and 13% multi-racial. Students were assessed in Fall and Spring on the measures of academic ability (Applied Problems, Reading Vocabulary, and Letter-Word subtests from the WJ III Tests of Achievement and the Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test),. Significant treatment effects for the entire Tools of the Mind sample on mathematics ability was documented on the WJ III Applied Problems subtest (ES=+0.13), however results on reading did not reach significance and there were no significant differences overall in the academic category at the end of kindergarten.  At the same time, the specific effects of the curriculum for children in the high-poverty schools were significant on the measures of vocabulary (ES=+0.43). Follow-up data in the first grade indicated that all children in the Tools sample continue to outperform their peers in control classrooms with the treatment effect on reading ability reaching the level of significance (ES=+0.14). The sustained effect of the program in the first grade was also observed for vocabulary and extended to all children receiving Tools of the Mind, not only children in high poverty schools (ES=+0.10).

Blair, McKinnon, & Daneri (2018) reports on the teacher-assessed measures of self-regulation and social-emotional competence from 4 standardized questionnaires about each child enrolled in the study in the Fall and Spring. There were significant positive effects on aggression/fighting (ES=+0.19), disruptive behavior (+0.19), school climate (+0.15), emotional regulation (+0.16), and social skills (+0.18). There were no significant differences on teacher ratings of child achievement. Follow-up ratings by first grade teachers (who were not involved with Tools of the Mind) found significant positive effects only on aggression/fighting.

These outcomes qualified Tools of the Mind for an ESSA “Strong” rating for problem behaviors, emotional well-being, and social relationships.

Staffing Requirements

To implement Tools of the Mind Kindergarten program, it is strongly recommended for a classroom teacher to have a half-day or full-day teacher assistant.

Recommended: A dedicated coach or Master Teacher who supports all teachers implementing Tools; they can work with administrators to identify creative solutions if this is not in place.

Professional Development/Training

Tools provides a multi-year professional development training program that is integrated and builds on each year’s training to deepen impact on teacher and children outcomes. After Year 1 training, school-districts are invited to continue with Year 2 training (focuses on teacher capabilities and data-drive instruction), Year 3 training and beyond (focus on high fidelity implementation and reflective practice) to become endorsed Tools of the Mind teachers; endorsed teachers have free access to participate in regional Community of Practice events.

Tools establishes deep partnerships with school-district and program leadership to understand their needs and tailor professional development packages accordingly. Professional development includes working with the district coaching and administrative staff to strengthen fidelity to the program.


Tools of the Mind can be implemented with technology already available to most schools. However, the implementation of Tools is significantly enhanced if teachers, coaches and administrators are able to use the professional development tool, the iScaffold, which is either installed on an iPad or accessed on the Tools website.

In addition, Tools offers two iPad apps requiring 4-8 iPads for Kindergarten
– Developmental Writing Assessment (DWA) that tracks writing development.
-PowerTools for Kindergarten only which scaffolds the first stages of decoding and tracks reading development in a way that facilitates teacher classroom scaffolding.