Photograph of four young kids sitting on a wall, all reading books or using electronic devices. Heads of children are omitted from the photo.

What is the Middle Years Development Instrument?

The middle years are a time of great opportunity but also heightened risk. Middle childhood – the time between 6 to 12 years of age – marks a distinctive period in human development. Children experience important cognitive, social and emotional changes that establish their identity and set the stage for development in adolescence and adulthood.

The MDI is a survey that children fill out in Grades 4 through 8.  It asks them how they think and feel about their experiences both inside and outside school. The survey includes questions about five areas of development: social and emotional development, connectedness, school experiences, physical health and well-being, and use of after-school time. It is unique because it records children’s own voices. It was developed in 2006 by researchers at the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), University of British Columbia (UBC), in partnership with the United Way of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver School Board. It was tested extensively in the Vancouver, Coquitlam and Revelstoke school districts and is now being implemented in over 25 school districts across British Columbia. The MDI has also been piloted in Australia and Peru. The UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities has piloted the MDI in the US and holds the license to administer it across communities in the US. 

MDI Measures of Development

The MDI uses a strengths-based approach to assess five areas of development that are strongly linked to well-being, health, and academic achievement. In addition, the MDI focuses on highlighting the promotive and protective factors and assets that are known to support and optimize development in middle childhood. 

Children respond to questions about their current social and emotional functioning in 7 areas: optimism, self-esteem, happiness, empathy, prosocial behavior (caring, helpful), sadness and worries. 

Children are asked about their experiences of support and connection with the adults in their schools and neighborhoods, with their parents or guardians at home, and with their peers.  

Children are asked about their school experiences in 4 areas: academic self-concept, school climate, school belonging, and experiences with peer victimization (bullying). 

Children evaluate their own physical well-being in the areas of overall health including emotional well-being, physical activity, nutrition and sleeping habits.

Children are asked about the time they spend engaged in organized activities such as sports, music and art, as well as the time they spend watching TV, doing homework and playing video games. 

How does the MDI work? 

  • The MDI is completed in November during class time. Children taking the survey are supervised by a classroom teacher, principal or other school adult;
  • Completed MDI surveys are processed by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities;
  • Each participating community and school district receives a report that summarizes the feedback students have provided on the MDI;
  • Children’s participation in the MDI is completely voluntary. Any parent can request that their child not take the survey by contacting their classroom teacher or school principal. Children are also told that they can withdraw from taking the survey at any point.
What the MDI is What the MDI is not
The MDI is a population level survey The MDI does not diagnose children with specific learning disabilities or developmental delays
The MDI provides information on the whole child, not just one aspect of their development The MDI does not assess the success or failure of individual children
The MDI records children’s feelings, thoughts, assets, strengths, needs and wishes; Teachers often use the time when children are answering the MDI survey as a learning opportunity The MDI does not compare individual children, teachers, classrooms or schools
The MDI can be used to improve supports and services for children in schools and communities
The MDI gives schools and communities important information about whether their programs and services meet the needs of their children