In this study, we implement a large-scale randomized field experiment in which preschool teachers in Norway introduce a new Norwegian Playful Learning Curriculum with five-year-olds. The intention with this curriculum is to stimulate socio-emotional, self-regulatory, language and math skills, which numerous studies have identified as foundational for future learning and development (Duncan et al., 2007; Hall, Welsh, Bierman, & Nix, 2016; Rabiner, Godwin, & Dodge, 2016). A total of 126 Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) centers participate in the field experiment, with 63 randomly selected centers in the treatment group.
The Norwegian Playful Learning Curriculum is a comprehensive structured curriculum with play-based activities for five-year-olds. We study the curriculum in the universal preschool context of Norway. The prevailing curriculum in Norway is very non-specific and unstructured, and therefore Norway provides an excellent platform for investigating the effects of a structured curriculum on children’s skills.
The Norwegian Playful Learning Curriculum was developed in a previous research project called the Agder Project (Leveling the playing feld: An intervention to promote school readiness and human potential - https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2241/history/18261). This project emphazised user involvement from teachers in the development of the intervention. Researchers in the Agder-project, in close collaboration with 42 ECEC teachers in Agder, developed The Norwegian Playful Learning Curriculum and tested treatment effects. The curriculum was developed during a 15 credit point training with the teachers. This is the curriculum that treatment teachers in the current project implement, and thus this RCT in many ways represents a replication of the Agder Project. Still, there are some important distinctions between the two. First of all teachers in the Agder Project received extensive training. Such extensive training is too expensive to give to all future users of the curriculum, and the training in itself might have caused effects in the Agder Project. Although user involvement was an advantage in the Agder Project to create an ecologically valid curriculum, a major drawback was that possible effects may be related to extraordinary engagement from the teachers and not the actual curriculum. Furthermore, ECEC centers in the treatment group of the Agder Project received funding for substitute teachers while the participating teachers implemented the intervention, and this in itself might give positive treatment effects. In order to detangle these effects, and to test whether the curriculum can easily be scaled up at a low cost, in the current study teachers are only offered a one day course introducing them to The Norwegian Playful Learning Curriculum before implementation. In addition to the book containing this curriculum, they receive a complementary video bank illustrating pedagogical principals and examples. Teachers receive weekly electronic nudges or reminders to give extra attention to vulnerable children, e.g. children lacking or falling behind on socio-emotional, self-regulatory, language and math skills.