Science of Learning and Development in Practice

The American Institutes for Research and the Readiness Projects partnered with seven national youth-serving organizations to learn about how they are aligning the practice components from the science of learning and development to their organizational and program practices. Organizations included 4-H, Camp Fire, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Playworks, Outward Bound, Student Conservation Association, and NatureBridge.


About the Science of Learning and Development

The science of learning and development is an emerging, cross-disciplinary body of knowledge that tells us how young people learn and develop. It presents many powerful lessons that can transform education systems, advance equity, and can help every young person thrive. This body of knowledge comes from the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance, a partnership of leading education research, practice, and policy organizations.

The SoLD Alliance describes five components that are essential for young people to learn, develop, and thrive:

  1. Positive developmental relationships
  2. Environments filled with safety and belonging
  3. Rich learning experiences
  4. Development of critical skills, mindsets, and habits
  5. Integrated support systems

Putting the Science into Practice: Supporting Whole Child Development

Youth-serving organizations are diverse in terms of where, when, how, and with whom they operate. But the shared components of all these community programs are the same ones that science tells us are critical for learning and development—they offer safety and belonging, and foster rich developmental relationships among peers as well as with the adults who staff the program. Explore the examples below of how youth-serving organizations across the country are putting that science into practice. 

The Science of Learning and Development in Action in 4-H

4-H has been exploring the findings from the science of learning and development and connecting it to their program practices and organizational initiatives in meaningful ways. This interactive report describes 4-H’s new initiative, Opportunity4All, which prioritizes sparks, belonging, relationships, and youth voice to address the opportunity gap. 

The Camp Fire Journey: Strong Relationships for Thriving Youth

Camp Fire, an inclusive, national youth development organization, cultivates strong and supportive relationships with youth by harnessing the science of learning and development and their extensive experience working with young people. In a compelling resource for funders, Camp Fire showcases their approach to relationship-building including transforming relationships by using a research-based framework, keeping equity at the forefront of relationships, equipping staff with essential skills and practices, and more.

Supporting Adult Capacity Through Organizational Practices at Boys & Girls Clubs of America

In 2016, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) invested in the capacity of their staff to provide high-quality programs for youth people. This brief highlights findings from the science of learning and development that underscore the critical role adults play in supporting young people’s learning and development and shares lessons learned from BGCA’s investment in their staff who work with young people.

Playworks: The Power of Play

AIR and Playworks collaborated to identify the essential Playworks practices and strategies and align them with the practice components of the science of learning and development. Playworks’ core insight is that safe and healthy play can support any child’s positive development. This brief and short video summarizes (1) what we know from the science makes for effective learning and development and (2) how Playworks supports safe and healthy play.

Nature-based Youth Programs: Outward Bound USA, Student Conservation Association, and NatureBridge

The three briefs below are based on a series of interviews with three prominent experiential and nature-based organizations: Outward Bound USA, Student Conservation Association, and NatureBridge. The briefs focus on connecting the science of learning and development to the approaches and impacts of youth serving nature-based organizations. The series includes Why Nature-Based Youth Programs Matter for Learning and Development, Defining Robust Equity and Inclusion, and Building Adult Capacity in Nature-Based Youth Programs.

Changing the odds for young people has never been more important