The Abecedarian Project
The Abecedarian Approach is one of the few evidence-based, proven programs that integrates basic principles of human learning and development into a fun, affordable, and effective approach to early childhood education.
The Abecedarian Approach was first implemented in a landmark study conducted in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with 111 children born into extremely disadvantaged life circumstances. The Abecedarian Project.
The project was led by Craig Ramey and Joseph Sparling and centred on an intervention that involved intensive learning and social-emotional supports – starting in infancy and continuing until at least kindergarten entry – for children and their families.
The project sought to determine whether the provision of theory-based, active learning experiences could produce significant benefits in language and learning for children from highly impoverished, multi-risk families (who were known to be at risk for poor school achievement).
The intervention goals were:
- to support families, and
- to improve children’s early development and their school achievement.
The broad program included playful interactions, enriched care, and stable relationships among children and adults. Rich language interactions were individualised, frequent and intentional throughout the day, and took place through all the common events of living and caregiving. The intention was to have a broad-spectrum educational approach, because much of the day for children under two years of age included eating, dressing, exploration, play, and dynamic interactions with adults. The Approach emphasised the role of young children as active learners and the value of response-contingent feedback from the environment, and was devised into four key elements:
- Language Priority (Download PDF)
- LearningGames® (Download PDF)
- Conversational Reading (Download PDF)
- Enriched Caregiving (Download PDF)
Since the original study, the Abecedarian Approach has been used successfully in centre-based care, home-visiting programs, family-day-care homes, and long-day-care settings.
Language as the core of early learning
The Abecedarian Approach places a priority on children’s language acquisition, because language is a proven core of early learning and school readiness. Language allows children to organise their thoughts and explain their ideas; it gives them the means to express their feelings; and it gives them the tools they need to interact with peers and adults. Language also allows the child to use private speech, talking aloud to themselves to work through a problem or regulate their emotions. As a child gets older they internalise this speech so that it is no longer out loud but still a means of guiding their behaviour.
Abecedarian Approach Australia – 3a
The focus of the 3a approach is providing specific evidence-based techniques that advance the personal, social and academic achievements of very young children who, through local circumstances, may require additional attention and support to ensure success as they grow and learn.
The Abecedarian Approach Australia –3a – was developed after an international literature review of the findings of model early childhood programs and approaches, including the Abecedarian studies, and selected as the approach most relevant to supporting very young children living in disadvantaged circumstances, including poverty and social marginalisation.
Because it is vitally important to understand local context when seeking to implement any model program successfully, the core components of the Abecedarian Approach were reviewed and customised through sequential projects and activities that explored and adjusted content details to suit local conditions.
For example, the LearningGames® were redeveloped in consultation with Aboriginal communities through an adaptation and trialling process led by the Northern Territory Department of Education in collaboration with Professor Sparling and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. The redeveloped games were published for use within remote and regional Aboriginal communities by Northern Territory Department , and are available under licence to early educators working with Aboriginal families.
Each of the elements of 3a has been aligned with contemporary Australian Early Childhood policy, including The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the National Quality Standard (NQS ).
3a is now used in a range of metropolitan, urban and regional settings in different parts of Australia, including within playgroups, long-day-care settings and kindergarten programs.
Abecedarian Education Foundation
Find out more about the Global Abecedarian Education Foundation.