Early Learning Study at Harvard

The Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) is a population-based study that examines children’s development in the context of their early education and care settings.

A New Era of Science

To deliver on the promise of early education, we need to bring the science of early learning up to date in two ways. The science has to match the demographics of today’s children, including today’s linguistic, racial/ethnic, and economic diversity; and the science needs to reflect all the different types of settings where children are in care. Only then can we answer the big questions, including those about scaling (for example, what models work, for whom, and under what conditions?) and those about long-term effects and “fade out” (for example, what are the impacts of high-quality early education and care on future outcomes?).

ELS@H is also uniquely positioned to answer questions about how the COVID-19 pandemic affects young children, families, and early educators. We have gathered information before and during this public health crisis and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

Study Key Questions
  • What are the patterns of early education and care across the state for 3- and 4-year olds? What combinations of formal (such as preschools, Head Start centers, and pre-K classrooms in public schools) and informal care (such as care from relatives) are families using for their preschool children?
  • What learning outcomes and developmental gains can we expect from early learning environments? Which of these outcomes are particularly sensitive to high-quality environments and how do they vary by characteristics of the population?
  • What features of early schooling predict whether the benefits of preschool will be maintained or multiplied?
For Participating Families

Please update your contact information and send us your questions.
Have you moved or changed your phone number or email address?
Do you have questions about the study?
Please use the link below to share your new contact information and questions with us. That way, you can continue to be part of our study of how young children learn and grow across Massachusetts.

Contact Us

Need to get in touch with us? Use the phone number and email below.
Toll-free ELS@H Line: 1-844-865-2196
Email: EarlyLearning@abtassoc.com

For more information, download the brochure for study families


ELS@H (pronounced “Elsa”) is a study being run by researchers at Harvard University and the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative to find out about how the different types of places where young children spend time relate to how they learn and grow. Once fully launched, the study will include about 5,000 children and their caregivers from all across Massachusetts. A Massachusetts-based research organization called Abt Associates is working with researchers at Harvard University to carry out the study. You can visit Abt’s website here: www.abtassociates.com.

If you were part of the study last year when your child was 3- or 4-years-old…

You might remember that when we began the study, we wanted to make sure the participating children were like all of the 3- and 4-year-old children in Massachusetts. To do so, the study team picked over 150 communities by chance and invited every 3- and 4-year-old from those communities to be part of the study. That way we are confident that the children in our study are similar to children from across state. This year, your child is being invited to participate again now that they are 4 or 5 years old.

If you are new to the study with a child in Kindergarten…

We are interested in learning about all the settings where children learn and grow and that includes Kindergarten! Now that many of the children in our study are 5 years old and in Kindergarten, we are hoping to learn more about their classrooms and their classmates and so we are inviting new Kindergartners to join us. We’ve asked you to join us because your child is in a Kindergarten class with a child who joined the study last year.

We will ask for you to complete a short survey about your background experiences as a parent or guardian and your child’s development. If your child stays at home with you most of the time, the study team may schedule a time with you to look directly at your child’s skills. If your child spends more of his or her time in a program or school, we will first try to measure your child’s skills while he/she is there.

We hope to be able to find out about the places where your child spends time and learns because we want to know about the experiences that are helping your child to grow and develop, as well as those that help them learn when they are at a school. The study team may ask your child’s teacher or caregiver to complete a survey about their experiences and perceptions of your child’s skills as well as visit to learn what your child knows and can do and see what your child’s day is like.

The results of the study will provide information to the people who care most about young children – parents or guardians, caregivers, program developers, and other decision makers – about how to best support the development of young children in Massachusetts. Over time, these findings will be used to influence other states and policy decisions.

Yes, we will keep all of the information that we collect about children, families, and caregivers private to the fullest extent allowed by law. We will never include the names of children, families, or caregivers in any reports or study findings. Additionally, we will not report any of the data we collect as part of the study to any government agency and we will never ask about the legal status of anyone in the study. If we learn that a child is in danger, we must report this by law. The study team is committed to protecting your confidentiality. However, participation in a study always includes a small risk that your personal information might be seen by someone outside of the study team. The study team has developed strict procedures to minimize the chance that this happens.

Please contact the study team by telephone (1-844-865-2196) or email (earlylearning@abtassoc.com). You can also visit the ELS@H website here: www.ELSAHstudy.com and check us out on Facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/ELSAHStudy.

Our Approach

Public health framework

This population-based study in Massachusetts involves a representative sample of both children and the settings in which they receive their early education and care.

Population-based methodology

The study begins with a cohort of 3- and 4-year-olds who are demographically representative (for example, by language, ethnicity, and family income) of all 3- and 4-year-olds across Massachusetts.

Our Advisors

Martha Zaslow

Director of the Office for Policy and Communications
Society for Research in Child Development

Sean Reardon

Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education
Stanford Graduate School of Education

Deborah Phillips

Professor of Psychology
Georgetown University

David Francis

Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair of Quantitative Methods, Department of Psychology

University of Houston

Daphna Bassok

Batten Bicentennial Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education
University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development