MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies team develop new, first-of-its-kind curriculum for children

February 14, 2023 - Katie Nicpon

A team of faculty and graduate students from the Michigan State University Department of Human Development and Family Studies are working with a multi-university team to develop a new curriculum called Great First Eight for children ages birth through eight years old. The curriculum can be used in elementary schools, childcare programs, preschools, and home-based early care and education, and it meets the need for innovative, cohesive, and representative learning experiences throughout early childhood.

“Curricula rarely reflect the most updated science of child development and education, nor representation of diverse families and communities,”  Dr. Claire Vallotton said, MSU HDFS professor and co-author of the curriculum. “Also, different curricula from subject-to-subject and year-to-year provide disjointed learning experiences for students. Great First Eight addresses all of these issues by creating an interdisciplinary and integrated curriculum centered in principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion that spans from infancy through second grade.”

Dr. Vallotton and her team engaged diverse families and communities from the beginning to get their input on how curriculum and early childhood education should be different.

“Children from historically under-represented communities based on race, ethnicity, culture rarely see their identities reflected in curricula, and most curricula are not responsive to children’s families, home lives, and cultures,” she said. “This curriculum is designed for educational programs in metropolitan areas and specifically classrooms serving children from historically under-represented groups.”

Great First Eight is designed to span the whole early childhood age range, avoiding gaps and duplications in what children learn from year to year because it is a curriculum that builds on children’s knowledge and skills over time.

Typically, most curricula focus on just one discipline or domain, such as math, literacy, or social and emotional learning, which means that schools have to adopt many different curricula, and teachers have to figure out how to fit all of those different curricula into their day. Great First Eight provides an integrated approach to all subjects, making planning much easier for teachers, and learning much more coherent for children.

The learning experiences are project-based, so that children are learning in very engaging and relevant ways. In each project-based unit, they create authentic products for real audiences such as their families, community members and local organizations.

“The curriculum is very innovative and is a ‘living curriculum’ published only online, rather than in hard copy -- which means there are no curriculum ‘versions’ and we can update individual components, such as lesson plans and family messages, based on updates to the science, or teacher or family feedback, at any time, and republish it online instantly,” Dr. Vallotton explained.

The most ideal use of the curriculum will be in school districts where the elementary schools are connected with preschool and childcare programs and the curriculum can be used across programs in the district from birth through second grade.

The curriculum is an open educational resource – it’s free and publicly available. Programs and schools do have to buy some books and materials such as toys, board books for young children, a tablet or computer for the classroom, and certain furnishings, but the curriculum itself and all of the professional learning is free. 

Great First Eight is the result of a collaboration with the University of Michigan as well as a diverse team of researchers, writers, and community partners all over the country.

“The curriculum vision and writing are led by a diverse team of the top researchers in each domain of development and discipline of education, and the writing team includes many current or former early child educators,” Dr. Valloton said. 

Many HDFS faculty and graduate students have participated in creating the curriculum. Drs. Tamesha Harewood, Denise Powell and Holly Brophy Herb worked with Dr. Vallotton in addition to HDFS graduate students Loria Kim, Anissa Eddie and Luci Davila.

“Together we have written more than 3,500 pages of curriculum, and produced more than 42 hours of pre-recorded professional learning modules, as well as lots more including family engagement materials, printable posters and signage, etc.,” Dr. Vallotton said.

“I have been honored to be a part of the curriculum development team,” Anissa Eddie said, HDFS doctoral candidate who worked as one of the writers on the infant-toddler curriculum. “The content is family-centered, culturally responsive, and research-based. It can be challenging to find curricula, especially infant/toddler curricula, that incorporate all three of these aspects. Having an excellent birth through eight curricula that is available at no cost is revolutionary. I'm so excited for all the children, families, and classrooms that will benefit from this project!”

Loria Kim, another doctoral student, worked on the infant-toddler curriculum too, and brought her experiences working with infants and toddlers to help the team.

“Working on this curriculum has been important to me both personally and professionally because I am passionate about providing high quality and equitable care and education for infants and toddlers and this curriculum has been developed to do that exact thing,” she said. “I also believe that this curriculum will help educators’ competence and well-being as it provides information to build and develop their skills.”

Dr. Powell served as lead for Family Engagement and Early Intervention to collaboratively develop and support a family engagement curriculum focus that recognizes, embraces and honors the funds of knowledge that families contribute to children’s development, learning, and well-being. Families were viewed as resources and each unit was specifically designed to encourage authentic and ongoing, familial participation in the infant explorations and toddler projects.

“All families already have everything they need to have a positive impact on children’s learning and development,” Dr. Powell said. “All early childhood education stakeholders must recognize the value that families bring to the table and strive to create opportunities for powerful teacher, school, family, and community partnerships.”

The curriculum brings together the latest research in child development and the perspectives of diverse communities and all the people who are integral in a child’s life from families, to teachers, to school administrators.

 To view and learn more about the curriculum, visit