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Bright Start
Cognitive Curriculum For Young Children

Authors: Dr. Carl Haywood, Dr. Penelope Brooks, Dr. Susan Burns

Bright Start is an educational program designed to help young children acquire, elaborate, and apply fundamental thinking skills that are essential for learning the academic material of the primary grades. It also helps them to perceive the need for such strategies, to generate their own, and to know when and how to apply them to new learning and understanding. Developed for use in classrooms with preschool children (3-6 years, developmental age), the program is also widely used in clinics, therapeutic centers, and even at home with children who have special educational and developmental needs.

Practical Information on Bright Start

Benefiting from the theoretical positions of Vygotsky, Piaget, Feuerstein, Haywood, and Gibson, the program relies on a mediational style of teaching, is concentrated in 7 curriculum "units," and includes a cognitive-mediational system of behavior management as well as a program of parent participation. It is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Finnish, Dutch/Flemish, and Hebrew, with Russian and Ukrainian editions in preparation and a Chinese edition under consideration. Implementation of the program requires special training for teachers and supervisors, which can be given in intensive workshops of 30-40 hours beginning with certified teachers. Materials consist of a teacher manual, a parent manual, a set of theoretical papers, and a record-keeping booklet, all intended for the use of adults and all available from the commercial publishers. There are no consumable materials for children other than those provided with the teacher manual for copying; thus, the materials are re-useable, that is, there is nothing that has to be acquired every year.

Information and materials can be obtained from the American publisher of the English edition: Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA, USA, or from their website: . There is also a Bright Start group email On the group, it is possible to post queries that will go to all members of the group, and to discuss with them whatever issues might come up. Teacher trainers are available for teaching in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Flemish/Dutch, Finnish, German, and Hebrew, and can be identified by posting questions on the site or by writing to the or

The program has demonstrated utility with typically developing children, culturally "different" and linguistically different children, and children with a variety of handicapping conditions, including mental retardation, severe emotional disturbance, autism, learning disabilities, speech, hearing , and language delays, and chronic illness.


From this review of the Bright Start curriculum and the research that has been done on its effectiveness, it is possible to reach some conclusions and to develop some new questions.
1. When systematically applied by teachers who have been trained in its methods, this program of cognitive/metacognitive early education has demonstrated positive effects on IQ, although that is not the most important criterion variable. Rather than believing that the program results in increased intelligence, the authors' interpretation of the IQ data is that cognitive early education helps children to gain access to the intelligence that they already have and to apply their intelligence more effectively and efficiently to new learning.

2. There are indications that this program may help to enhance children's development of a task-intrinsic motivational orientation. The research support for such a conclusion is fairly minimal, but the question itself is of prime importance. Other preschool education programs have led to increased motivation to learn (Lazar & Darlington, 1982), so such an outcome would not be surprising. It is only through enhanced task-intrinsic motivational systems that one can expect enthusiasm for and pursuit of learning to continue past formal education. It is thus an essential ingredient if one wishes to help people to become life-long independent learners.

3. There are also indications that this program can help to "level the playing field" in such a way that children with disabilities can be educated well in regular classes; i.e., it can help to avoid unnecessary and inappropriate special education placement. As is true of the research on motivational effects, this are has not been studied as extensively as have some other criterion variables, and requires further empirical study.

4. The program's positive effects on cognitive functioning and development itself are well demonstrated. The effects of a cognitive intervention on cognitive functioning and development, together with effects on motivation, must be considered primary effects. Failure to find such effects would mean that there would be little chance of discovering effects of such secondary or tertiary variables as learning and school achievement. These effects on cognitive functioning appear also to be durable, which is a good basis for inferring that development itself has been influenced.

5. The ultimate criterion in studies of the effects of early education is subsequent school achievement. In the United States, we are quite accustomed to seeing early education programs produce positive effects on "predictor" variables (such as IQ), and even on early school achievement, and then watching in dismay as both effects disappear by the third or fourth follow-up year. The studies reported here demonstrate convincingly that a program of cognitive early education can have generalizable and durable effects on school achievement across a variety of academic subject domains. From a theoretical point of view, these results help to answer affirmatively the question, "Is early cognitive learning generalizable to later learning in different content domains?"

The data reported here bear upon an issue that has become widespread around the world: the apparent low level of educability in children who are from low socioeconomic levels, who are culturally and/or linguistically different or even the objects of social discrimination, or "transcultural" (e.g., of recent immigrant status). These data, especially from the Israeli and French studies, strongly suggest that cognitive early education as represented in Bright Start can at least partially overcome the educational disadvantage that is seen so often in so many places in the world among such children, and can effectively close the gap in educational achievement between poor children and children from more advantaged circumstances. That prospect is encouraging indeed!

Brooks, P. H. & Haywood, H. C. (2003).
A preschool mediational context: The Bright Start curriculum.
In A. S.-H. Seng, L. K.-H. Pou, & O.-S. Tan (Eds.), Mediated learning experience with children: Applications across contexts, pp. 98-132.
Singapore: McGraw-Hill Education (Asia).

The specific goals of Bright Start

  • To enhance and accelerate the development of basic cognitive functions, especially those functions characteristic of the cognitive developmental stage of concrete operations.
  • To identify and remediate deficient cognitive functions.
  • To develop task-intrinsic motivation.
  • To develop representational thought.
  • To enhance learning effectiveness and readiness for school leaning.

The Bright Start program consists of seven cognitive units, each designed to address a fundamental aspect of the cognitive functioning of preschool children. The units may be taught in one-to-one or small group situations for a period of about 30-40 minutes each day. It is recommended that these units be taught in the following sequence:

Unit 1: Self-Regulation:
Children learn to bring their bodies under the control first of external stimuli and then of internal stimuli (or self control). Children then learn to use their self control in a social context.

Unit 2: Number Concepts:
Introduces basic number concepts - amounts, numbers, ordinal relations, conservation. Starting with one-to-one correspondence, children learn concepts that help them respond to events in a quantitative, organized way.

Unit 3: Comparison:
Introduces the concept that we can identify similarities and differences in a systematic way. Children learn to define and make comparisons based on such characteristics as size, shape, and color.

Unit 4: Role-Taking:
Develops the ability to take different perspectives, first on the physical, and then on the social, level. Children learn to consider other people's feelings and view-points. This unit, like Self Regulation, is primarily social in nature.

Unit 5: Classification:
Develops the function of classifying across three dimensions - color, size, shape - and evolves into representational classification (classifying without pictures).

Unit 6: Sequence and Pattern:
Children learn to identify items within classes according to their serial position. The lessons focus on number and pattern progression and finding patterns in groups of stimuli.

Unit 7: Letter-Shape Concepts:
Children learn to identify and classify objects and events according to certain prominent characteristics, which will be crucial to the learning of the letters of the alphabet.



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