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Tech-enabled assessments and interventions to close the early achievement gap

Cognitive ToyBox is an early childhood platform for kindergarten readiness.

Photo of Tammy Kwan
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We have continued to get feedback on our platform to better understand how it will fit within the early childhood education ecosystem. In particular, we have been speaking to district leaders about their early childhood strategy, as well as home-visiting programs, to better understand how to tie data from programs designed for 0-3 year olds to learning outcomes in the third grade. We are piloting our assessments with children ages 18 months to three years of age. Over 260 children from ages 18 months to 3 years of age have used our direct assessment games in research studies at Stanford University and Indiana University.

Name or Organization

Cognitive ToyBox, Inc.


We are located in Brooklyn, NY. We will implement our idea in the US.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Cognitive ToyBox is a tech-enabled platform designed to increase caregiver and teacher efficacy for programs designed for children from 18 months to five years of age. The platform comprises of two core offerings: assessments and interventions. The assessments will enable teachers to efficiently gather reliable and valid data on children’s development across critical developmental domains. With the data, caregivers and teachers can then view automatically generated recommendations, including CTB’s evidence-based digital intervention tools, that can best support each child’s development.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Cognitive ToyBox is developing a research-backed, tech-enabled platform for kindergarten readiness. We develop direct assessment games that make ongoing assessment less time-consuming, more reliable, and more effective in gathering the data necessary to ensure children are developing typically. By making data collection around assessment easier and enabling caregivers and early childhood teachers to more effectively utilize the data to support children, we can help them to focus on the things that matter most for a child’s success: high-quality interactions between caregivers and children. In addition to assessments, we also develop interventions. Our intervention games take a radically different approach from the other 80,000 other “educational” games in the App Store. Most current apps focus on reinforcing ABCs, 123s, colors, and other early fundamentals through rote learning and memorization, often with dubious success. In contrast, Cognitive ToyBox develops apps that help children learn-to-learn (L2L) — teaching high-level principles so children learn more efficiently outside of the app. To prove out the efficacy of this model, our academic partners at Stanford University, Indiana University and University of Pennsylvania are evaluating the impact of the intervention games on language and math trajectories for children ages 18 months to five years of age.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Observation-based assessment and parent-report are the predominant methods for collecting data on children ages 0-5. But these methods yield sparse data that is often unreliable and is limited in developmental scope. Moreover, these methods do not give caregivers and early childhood teachers sufficient data to diagnose issues and guide individual child development at the time when it matters most.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

The widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets in the US gives rise to the opportunity to develop effective tech-enabled solutions for at-risk communities in a low-cost, scalable way. Cognitive ToyBox is building technology for touchscreen devices to improve early childhood outcomes. One of the biggest pain points in early childhood is the lack of data to effectively measure program outcomes. The most commonly used screening tools and assessments only provide data points at one to two distinct periods during the year. Moreover, observation-based assessments and parent-reports are often limited in scope, focusing on just one or two domains, such as language or social-emotional development. Cognitive ToyBox is building a tech-enabled data collection platform for early childhood that enables ongoing assessment of children’s development across the development domains through a medium that is easy to administer: five-minute touchscreen games. Cognitive ToyBox aspires to be the largest provider of developmental data to early childhood programs. We will collect this data through five-minute adaptive assessment games on touchscreen devices. This approach has promising preliminary results: over 260 children from 18 months to 3 years of age have used our vocabulary assessment games in research studies. Moreover, preliminary research results show that scores from the assessment games correlate with scores on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories - a reliable and valid measure of language for children ages 0 to 3. Down the line, Cognitive ToyBox will also build in capabilities to import data from other sources and third-party systems. We can then apply statistical models to help childcare providers use data to more effectively document and predict when intervention is needed.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Cognitive ToyBox develops tools for caregivers and early childhood teachers to more effectively gather data on young children’s development, and use the data to determine how to best support each students needs. By improving caregiver and teacher efficacy, we aim to improve early childhood outcomes. There are measurable differences in language skills as early as 18 months of age. Our goal, through our early childhood platform, is to close the early achievement gap by getting our platform to programs that serve low-income communities. User feedback drives the development of our product. Before we started Cognitive ToyBox, we conducted over 100 customer interviews to better understand the early childhood space from the perspective of caregivers, children, teachers, school administrators, pediatricians, speech pathologists, and scientists. User feedback continues to be a core part of our development cycle. We conduct monthly user tests, and insights from these sessions are translated into product requirements for the subsequent development sprint. Over the past year, we have completed twelve user testing sessions with five teachers who serve 90 students in low-income communities. We are focused on publicly funded home-visiting and early childhood programs, since this is where we will see the most impact and the largest market potential.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Our platform will enable caregivers and teachers to take a data-driven approach to their practice. Through pilot testing, we know that the assessment platform takes minimal training for caregivers. The interface is intuitive, and teachers and caregivers are able to get started without training or documentation. Moreover, because assessment is done directly with the child, it leads to data and evaluations that are more reliable, across all individuals, from the teacher aide to the head teacher. Long-term, we will scale our platform up, so that we can provide a comprehensive way to track child outcomes, starting from 18 months to the third grade.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

At the core of its mission, Cognitive ToyBox aims to close the preschool and kindergarten achievement gap related to socioeconomic status. The team plans to provide low-income children access to the CTB platform through partnerships with home-visiting programs, Early Head Start and Head Start programs nationwide.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Federal and state programs fund over 2.3 million children in home visiting, Head Start and Pre-K programs. CTB’s platform has the potential to transform the industry by providing a low-cost tech-enabled solution, which will not only reduce assessment time, but also provide more reliable data to early childhood providers. CTB’s platform has early indicators of success in the market: we have beta customers and are in conversations with several large childcare providers and home-visiting programs regarding larger-scale pilots. Moreover, we are proving out the efficacy of our platform for 0 to 3 year olds with academic partners using the gold standard of evidence: randomized controlled trials. We envision that the Cognitive ToyBox platform will give early childhood education leaders an unprecedented amount of developmental data, helping them to better understand program quality and its relationship to critical child outcomes.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

There are 20 million children in the US under the age of 5, of which 12 million are enrolled in early childhood education programs. Cognitive Toybox aims to reach these 12 million children by selling the platform to the programs that serve these children. We will start with publicly funded programs, where we believe our tools could have the most impact. Down the line, we also sell to private childcare programs.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Cognitive ToyBox has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, and NewSchools Venture Fund for the research and development of the platform. Moreover, we have beta customers at the district, school, and program level that serve 2 to 4 year olds, and we are in conversations with home-visiting programs that serve families with children ages 3 and under. We also have three efficacy studies underway at Stanford University, Indiana University, and the University of Pennsylvania, for children ages 18 months to 4 years of age, and the preliminary results look promising.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We sell our platform on an annual subscription basis to early childhood programs. CTB’s platform has early indicators of success in the market. Our platform is being used by over 100 children in Head Start and Pre-K programs in New York, as well as one school district. We are in the process of expanding our platform to our pilot partners' programs for 0 to 3 year olds.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

The team regularly checks in with our pilot partners, and the feedback from their implementations directly drives our product roadmap. We also visit our pilot sites in person, to observe how both the program staff and children interact with the platform, and to ensure that we are building a product that best meets their needs.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Co-founder Tammy Kwan studied developmental psychology at Stanford and worked as a product manager in technology for 4+ years. Cognitive ToyBox is a combination of her two interests. Tammy is most excited about the ability to bridge the gap between the cutting-edge research being done in academic labs with early childhood technology products, to make real-world impact.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We have the technical and research expertise to successfully build out our platform. We are seeking a distribution partner, who would be willing to engage with us on a larger-scale pilot.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would love the opportunity to work with a medium to large size school district to develop our product. Our vision is to be able to use CTB’s single platform to track outcomes starting at 18 months of age, all the way to the third grade, to better understand program quality and its relationship to critical child outcomes.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would love to connect with a mentor who can help us to better understand the public funding streams for early childhood in the US and advise us on potential distribution strategies for our early childhood platform.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

I enjoyed connecting with DeLonn. He was helpful in providing insight on the potential of getting funding from CSR groups and thinking through the opportunity in the private childcare market.

Name or Organization

Cognitive ToyBox, Inc.


We are located in Brooklyn, NY. We are implementing our idea in the US.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • For - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology


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