The Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework provides Head Start and other early childhood programs with a description of the developmental building blocks that are most important for a childs school and long-term success” (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010, p.1). All children, ages 3 to 5 years old, are expected to advance in all of the areas of child development and early learning that are written by the Framework. All federally funded Head Start programs are also expected to develop and implement a program that ensures such progress is made (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). The Framework is the base foundation of the Head Start Approach to School Readiness. It aligns with and builds from the five essential domains of school readiness identified by the National Educational Goals Panel and lays out essential areas of learning and development (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). The five essential domains outlined in the Framework are: language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical development and health .
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There are many reasons that children enter daycare and other childcare settings in the years leading up to beginning kindergarten. The primary reason that children enter preschool, either private or public, is a parent returning to work, especially during the first one or two years two of a child’s life (Peyton, Jacobs, O’Brien, & Roy, 2001). Statistics from outside the home preschool programs suggest that non-family child care can provide lasting benefits to children (Campbell, Ramey, Pungello, Sparling, & Miller-Johnson, 2002). The later preschool are normally the years that prepare children to start school (Fram, Kim & Sinha, 2011). Head Start aims to provide the resources necessary to strengthen the school readiness and general development of pre-kindergarten children who come from low-income families, and a growing prekindergarten movement has extended this type of approach to a wider range of children with growing success (Barnett, Lamy, & Jung, 2005).
The FACES 2003 cognitive assessment data showed that most children entered Head Start with early academic skills that were “below national norms on standardized measures of vocabulary, early math, early reading, and early writing” (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2006, p.2). The cohort stated that the mean standard score for all U.S. children is 100, with a standard deviation of 15. Children who entered Head Start in the fall of 2003 had mean standard scores of 85.6 for vocabulary, 88.4 for early math, 95.0 for early reading, and 86.5 for early writing. These scores were expected because many of the enrolled Head Start children come from disadvantaged families with very low parent education (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006).
A 2012 study by Baroody and Diamond stated that reading is an essential area of academic competence that is “central to children’s successful development and functioning as adult citizens in society” (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2000, p.10), and learning to read is a main focus of instruction in early elementary grades. Children who are successful in reading are also more likely to do well in mathematics and other areas of academic achievement (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2000). Other studies on a nationally representative sample of young children have confirmed that children who participated in a center-based program between two and three years of age demonstrated the strongest cognitive and developmental outcomes at school entry (Loeb, Bridges, Bassok, Fuller & Rubmerger, 2007).
Language and Literacy
Children begin their language development early in life. This includes both receptive and expressive language, as well as understanding and possibly using one or more languages (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). Children must be allowed to interact socially with other children and adults to fulfill their language development. Children need to have a literacy knowledge to be successful in school. These skills include the basis for learning to read and write, such as basic concepts about printed materials, the alphabet, and letter-sound relationships (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). Research has shown that children who are interested in reading and literacy activities tend to participate more and are likely to become more proficient readers than children who lack literacy interest. Both literacy interest and engaging in literacy activities, both at home and at school, are important components in children’s early literacy experiences (Baroody & Diamond, 2012). There have been several studies on literacy skill development through play, which embed literacy materials within play settings in preschool programs, that have normally shown increases in children’s use of literacy materials and engagement in literacy acts (Bergen, 2002). Research shows that children who enter kindergarten with knowledge in language and literacy are more likely to succeed in schools, and children who are severely lacking in areas such as recognizing letters, phonological awareness, and overall language ability are more likely to experience trouble in learning to read (Bredekemp, 2004).
Children who enter the Head Start program come with a wide range of skills. In 2000, the highest quarter of Head Start children were at or above the 50th percentile in early language skills, with the lowest children ranked in the bottom 2 percent (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003, p. iii). The mean standard score for all U.S. children is 100, with a standard deviation of 15. The mean standard scores for children who entered Head Start during the fall of 2003 were 85.6 for vocabulary, 95.0 for early reading, and 86.5 for early writing (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003).
Researchers have documented that vocabulary, letter recognition, and phonological awareness are skills needed for children to successfully learn to read. Biemiller (2006) observed that vocabulary is a telling predictor of reading comprehension. A 1997 study by Cunningham and Stanovich showed a measurable connection between oral receptive vocabulary in first grade and reading comprehension in eleventh grade. Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998) and Ehri and Roberts (2006) both reported that letter recognition and phonemic awareness are two of the skills that children need to become proficient readers (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010). Emergent literacy is a key component of school readiness, and early differences in emergent literacy in preschool tend to be made worse throughout the elementary years (Noble, Duch, Darvique, Grundleger, Rodriquez, & Landers 2011). Noble et al. found that randomized trials suggested that when struggling parents are taught the parenting skills needed to help their children engage in reading and reading related activities, children’s emergent literacy skills will improve. Huge steps in reading are being seen when children are engaged in such emergent literacy strategies both at home and school (Noble, Duch, Darvique, Grundleger, Rodriquez, & Landers 2011). Children love to be read to. It’s a small thing that parents can do to improve their child’s success in school.
Research suggests “the skills that children need to become proficient writers include vocabulary knowledge, phonological sensitivity skills, letter knowledge, and an understand of conventional print, all of which contribute to their oral language skills” (Powell, Diamond, Bojczyk, & Gerde, 2008, p.425) In a qualitative study, teachers in one Head Start classroom stated that it is “important to expose children to the alphabet, but cautioned that the exposure should not be forced upon them” (Powell, Diamond, Bojczyk, & Gerde, 2008, p.427). According to the 2006 FACES Brief, the Head Start program has been stressing the importance of early literacy skills, which includes vocabulary and alphabet knowledge. The average number of letters that Head Start children know by the end of the program year continues to increase. Research shows gains in letter identification and early reading during the Head Start year have increased across the three FACES cohorts, 2000, 2003, and 2006. (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). In 2006, the Congressional goal of knowing at least 10 letters was being met. (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). The average number of letters that 4-year-old and 5-year-old children in Head Start could identify correctly has increased significantly since the 1997-98 program year. The mean number of letters correctly identified by children of these ages at the end of the 1997-98 program year was 7. At the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year, children identified 4 letters, and by the end knew an average of 9 letters (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003, p. iii). By the end of 2003-04 program year, the children could identify 10 on average. (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006).
The 2012 study by Baroody and Diamond studied children’s alphabet knowledge using the FACES QRS Letter Naming assessment (Westat, 2003). Children were shown three plates that included eight to nine uppercase letters. The child was asked to name all of the letters he/she knew. The data the researcher used was the number of letters the child named correctly. Due to the fact that children’s alphabet knowledge scores were not normally distributed, Baroody and Diamond created a dichotomous variable: knowing few letters (0-9) or knowing many or most letters (10-26). These categories were based on both the distribution of these data and Head Start letter-knowledge objectives (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Sixty-seven percent of children (54 children) named few letters, and 33 percent (26 children) named 10 or more letters. Children who know more letters and do better on letter identification show higher levels of literacy interest. This is important because letter knowledge is a good predictor of children’s reading development (Baroody & Diamond, 2012). Children’s code-related skills in preschool, which include letter-word identification and alphabet knowledge, are related to kindergarten literacy skills, which are also related to reading and language skills in first through fourth-grade reading comprehension (Storch & Whitehurst, 2002).
Each Head Start FACES cohort includes a nationally representative sample of 3- to 4-year-old children entering Head Start for the first time in the fall of the program year, their families, Head Start teachers, classrooms, centers, and programs. Children in FACES are administered a one-on-one assessment of their development that includes language and literacy. There have been five FACES cohorts (1997, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009) and they show significant gains over fifteen years of school readiness in language and literacy, most notably in narrowing the gap between Head Start children and other preschool-age children, especially in vocabulary knowledge and early writing skills (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). FACES cohorts use the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III)(vocabulary) and the Woodcock-Johnson Revised (WJ-R) achievement battery to look at the children’s development (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003).
The FACES 2000 Executive Summary showed more progress in letter recognition skills than in the 1997-98 cohort (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). In 2000, FACES found that students entering Head Start had a mean standard score of 85.3 on the PPVT-III which increased to 89.1 in the spring (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). Scores on the Woodcock-Johnson Revised in early writing increased from 85.1 in the fall to 87.1 in the spring (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). The FACES 2003 cohort found more gains vocabulary and early writing skills. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III found a mean standard score of 85.6 in the fall, that increased to 90.6 over the course of the school year (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). The WJ-R showed a decrease in early writing skills from a 86.5 mean standard to an 85.9 (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). FACES 2006 also showed improvements in vocabulary and early writing with mean standard scores of 89.4 and 97.5, respectively (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). In FACES 2009, they used an adapted version of the PPVT which showed that children enrolled in Head Start scored ahead of the non-Head Start children with scores of 257.50 and 251.43 (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010). As shown in the 5 Head Start FACES cohorts, data shows impacts on children’s cognitive development while they are in their Head Start year (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010).
Cognitive and General Knowledge
Cognitive development encompasses areas such as social science, science, math and logic and reasoning skills. It is only one component of a child’s development, but is just as important to a child’s learning as is physical, social and emotional systems. When looking at mathematics, it includes the conceptual understanding of numbers, their relationships, combinations, and operations. Science includes the ability to gather information about the natural and physical world and organize that information into knowledge and theories. Social studies looks at understanding people and how they relate to others and the world around them. Logic and reasoning skills include the ability to think through problems and apply strategies for solving them (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010).
Jean Piaget was a psychologist who studied the cognitive development in children for over 50 years. He studied his own children and developed his theory of cognitive development. He believed that children acquire knowledge through interacting with the physical environment around them. Piaget believed that cognitive development occurs through the process of assimilation and accommodation. He found that “when the child encounters something in the environment that he or she does not understand, the child has to expand, through accommodation, his or her view of the world and thereby restore equilibrium” (Zigler & Bishop-Josef, p. 15).
Professors from Georgetown University constructed a cognitive study using students in Tulsa, Oklahoma to test the success of universally available pre-Kindergarten. Oklahoma has the highest proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-Kindergarten, 63%, of any state in the union. The study compared two groups of children of very nearly the same age, one of which had attended pre-K and one of which had not. The first group of 5-year-olds barely missed the birthday cut-off for pre-K and the other group turned 5 by the cutoff. The first group were about to start pre-K and the second group had experienced one year of pre-K and were starting kindergarten in the fall. Since the children were literally just days or weeks apart in age, they were expected to have similar skills, unless the experience of pre-K had made a difference. The one year of pre-K did make a difference. In three cognitive exams, letter-word identification, spelling and applied problems, Tulsa students who had pre-K substantially outperformed those who had not. Statistically significant differences were found among every race of students, and among every socioeconomic group. Quality early education benefits all social and economic groups of children (Calman & Tarr-Whelan, 2005).
Mathematics helps children make sense of their world outside of school and helps them construct a foundation for success in school. Math is for everyone. If math is taught properly at the early childhood level, all children should become proficient in it (Copley, 2010). Children who entered Head Start in the fall of 2000 had academic skill and knowledge levels well below national averages. Academic levels were comparable to the levels found FACES 1997. (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). The skills that children have when they start Head Start are influenced by home life and other early childhood settings before Head Start. FACES 2000 found that children who entered Head Start with lower math skills made greater gains than the children who came in with average scores. FACES found that students entering Head Start in 2000 scored an 89.7 on the Applied Problem (early math) task in the fall, but scores rose to 89.0 in the spring. This score shows entering students at about the 21st percentile in early math skills, when compared to American children in the same age range. The mean average standard score is 100, with a standard deviation of 15. Scores for the highest quarter of children entering Head Start was 104.7 in math. Therefore, these Head Start children rank in the top 50 percent when compared to all U.S. preschoolers (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003).
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FACES 2006 used the ECLS mathematics assessment to look at a broader set of skills, including geometry, patterns and measurement. It found a large range of scores in math. The average score for Head Start children was 88.4, with the national average being 100. The ECLS found that the children who started Head Start with the lowest skills scored an average of 68.8 and the children with the highest skills scores on average 105.7 (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2006).
Disadvantaged children are less likely to exhibit well-developed mathematics skills and knowledge than their more advantaged counterparts, both in preschool and continuing through the school years (Noble, Duch, Darvique, Grundleger, Rodriquez, & Landers 2011). These families tend to focus on simpler topics, such as counting and shape recognition, rather than on more complex processes such as numerical or geometric reasoning. In two small evaluations with Head Start families, researchers found that children who participated in Family Mathematics Curriculum (FMC) with their parents had significantly higher scores in the areas of enumeration, numerical reasoning, and an overall math composite relative to children in a control group (Starkey & Klein, 2000). This supports the idea that, with adequate support and materials, parents can have a significant impact on children’s mathematical skills, allowing for a more successful school experience (Noble, Duch, Darvique, Grundleger, Rodriquez, & Landers 2011). Head Start encourages families to become involved in all aspects of their child’s learning.
Social and Emotional Development
Head Start strives to promote young children’s development of social skills and emotional self-growth. Social and emotional development refers to children’s learning the skills needed to foster secure and healthy relationships with adults and other children, manage their own behavior and emotions, and develop a positive personal identity (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). Basically, this domain includes understand and following classroom rules, sharing with others, making friends, and listening, all skills needed to make children successful in school. “Teaching social and emotional skills to young children who are at risk either because of biological and temperament factors or because of family disadvantage and stressful life factors can result in fewer aggressive responses, inclusion with pro-social
peer groups, and more academic success” (Webster-Stratton & Reid, 2004, p. 98). Research in the area of early childhood education has shown that children’s social and emotional skills are important for children to be ready for school and are the basis for cognitive development and knowledge acquisition at very young ages (Center for the Study of Social Policy). Recent research released by Zero to Three, states that if ââ‚¬Å“children do not achieve early social and emotional milestones, they will not do well in the early school years and are at higher risk for school problems and juvenile delinquency later in life” (WestEd Center for Prevention and Early Intervention, 2006, p.10). Head Start children have shown growth in their social skills during the Head Start year (Unites States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). Early Head Start parents clearly linked their concerns about social and emotional development to their understanding that young children learn in social context and from social relationships (McAllister, Wilson, Green and Baldwin, 2005). Emotional regulation skills and social competence show exceptional growth during the preschool years. Teachers begin to see empathy emerge as children recognize a broader array of emotions. Children begin to understand that their actions can cause feelings in other people that are different from their own (Bierman, Nix, Greenberg, Blair, & Domitrovich, 2008).
A major developmental task of the first five years of life is the development of self-regulation, or controlling ones’ own emotions, learning to delay gratification, and building relationships. In fact, “providing the experiences that allow children to take over and self-regulate in one aspect of their lives after another is a very general description of the job of parents, teachers, and protectors of children that extends throughout early childhood and into the adolescent years” (Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, 2000, p. 94). All children must learn to navigate through the transition of total dependence on others at birth, including learning to regulate their emotions, behaviors, and attention (NAEYC, 2009). In the preschool years, teachers can help children develop self-regulation by scaffolding high-level dramatic play, helping children to express their emotions, and engaging them in planning and decision making (NAEYC, 2009). The preschool period is seen as a critical period for the development of the skills needed for social competence (Tarullo, West, Aikens, & Hulsey, December 2008). These skills are best accomplished during the preschool years “because building positive social skills and healthy emotional relationships in young children is much easier than later trying to correct behavior and adjustment problems” (Domain 6: Social and Emotional Development, website). Young children who know nothing but poverty are at greater risk of enduring emotional problems, particularly internalizing behavior problems (Tarullo, West, Aikens, & Hulsey, 2008). Also, children with greater self-regulation in kindergarten are more skilled in reading and mathematics in later grades (NAEYC, 2009). Studies show that aggression declines as children gain the self-regulatory skills that allow them to inhibit reactive aggression in favor of socially appropriate alternatives. The “acquisition of these social competencies (emotion regulation, pro-social skills, and aggression control) represent another important facet of school readiness, predicting kindergarten and elementary school engagement and academic success, as well as positive peer relation” (Bierman, Nix, Greenberg, Blair, & Domitrovich, 2008, p. 823).
The FACES 1997 and 2000 cohorts showed gains in cooperative classroom behavior over the course of the program year. Children who started Head Start with lower social skills showed more gains than the children who entered with higher social skills (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). The mean score on the Total Behavior Problems scale for the FACES 2000 cohort was 5.6. This score shows that the typical Head Start child engaged in several forms of aggressive, hyperactive, or withdrawn behavior at least somewhat or sometimes, or one or two forms of undesirable behavior often (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). This score was close to the same as in the 1997-98 cohort. The significant declines in problem behavior by children with higher levels of problem behavior indicates that Head Start is having a redeeming influence on the children enrolled (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003).
The FACES 2003 showed that Head Start children showed significant fall to spring gains on a measure of social skills and cooperative classroom behavior, similar to gains observed in the FACES 1997 and 2000 cohorts (Unites States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). Many Head Start children show growth in their social skills during the school year, with other gains in cooperative classroom behavior and a decrease in withdrawn behavior as observed by classroom teachers (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). FACES 2006 showed that Head Start teachers reported that children enrolled as 3-year-olds showed more social skills, 18.4 versus 14.8, by the end of their second year enrolled in Head Start and fewer problem behaviors (5.4 versus 7.8) on average (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). At select time points throughout the school year, Head Start teachers rated children as having relatively strong social skills and few problem behaviors.
The January 2010 Head Start Impact Study found strong evidence of an impact of access to Head Start on parent-reported behavior at the end of the Head Start year. Parents reported less hyperactive behavior (effect size= -.21) and fewer total problem behaviors (effect size= -.21) for the Head Start group as compared to the control group. There is suggestive evidence of a positive impact on parent-reported social skills and approaches to learning (effect size=.11) at the end of the age 4 year (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010). The same Head Start Impact Study also found that at the end of the kindergarten year, there is moderate evidence of an impact on parents’ reports of children’s hyperactive behavior. Parents reported less hyperactive behavior (effect size= -.21) for the Head Start group as compared to the control group. There is suggestive evidence of a favorable impact on children’s social skills and approaches to learning (effect size=0.14) as reported by parents in this year (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010). At the end of the 1st grade, there is moderate evidence of an impact on parent reports of closeness with their child (effect size=0.10), indicating more desirable or positive behavior for the Head Start group of children compared to those in the control group. There is also suggestive evidence of an improvement on parent-reported positive relationships with their child (effect size=0.10) in this year (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010).
School readiness and success in school require both the development of academic skills and the acquisition of positive social skills and approaches to learning (Blair, 2002). The January 2010 Head Start Impact Study showed there was “limited evidence of an impact of Head Start on children’s social-emotional development with no impacts identified in the Head Start year or in kindergarten and only limited and conflicting impacts reported at the end of the 1st grade” (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010, p. 5-1). There is more evidence for the 3-year-olds social-emotional development. Parents reported strong evidence of reduced hyperactive behavior and reduced total problem behavior for children in the Head Start group during the school year. The reduction of hyperactive behavior continued into kindergarten for children in the Head Start group with a moderate report by parents. Parents also reported suggestive evidence of better social skills and positive approaches to learning for children in the Head Start group in both the age 4 year and in kindergarten. Finally, at the end of 1st grade, parents of Head Start group children reported evidence of a positive and closer relationship with their child than parents of children in the control group (United States Department of Health and Human Services, January 2010).
Approaches to Learning
The way a child looks at learning contributes to their success in school and often in their learning. It is not what a child learns at this age, it is how a child learns. Children’s ability to stay focused, interested, and engaged in activities supports a range of positive outcomes, including cognitive, language, and social and emotional development (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010). The results of the “Getting Ready for School” study by Noble and colleagues, demonstrated that a targeted parent-focused program may be effective in supporting the development of school-readiness skills of disadvantaged preschool children. Assistance needs to be provided to Head Start programs to identifying and implement evidence-based interventions to help build the skills of parents so that they can help to support their child’s school readiness (Noble, Duch, Darvique, Grundleger, Rodriquez, & Landers, 2011). The approaches to learning domains encompasses observable behaviors that indicate ways children become engaged in social interactions and learning experiences (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2010).
Research shows that where children learn is just as important as how children learn. FACES 2000 found that Head Start classrooms were of good quality across a wide variety of indicators. In 2000-2001 there was an increased percentage of new teachers with advanced degrees that were more likely to be trained in Early Childhood Education and were members of a professional organization than in 1997-1998. The results showed that teachers with more education were more likely to have knowledge and positive attitudes about early childhood practices, which influence classroom quality (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). The FACES cohorts use the ECERS, or Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale to assess Head Start classrooms. The ECERS total score uses a rating scale of 1 to 7, with 1 indicating “inadequate” quality and 7 indicating “excellent” quality. FACES 1997 and 2000 cohorts found Head Start classrooms with relatively similar scores. In 1997, no classrooms were scored “inadequate” and only 4 of the 518 classrooms studied were scored in the “minimal” range (3) (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). In 2000, a revised version of the ECERS found 5 of the 258 classrooms in the “inadequate” range and 15 of the 258 classrooms scored in the “minimal” range. FACES 2000 shows a small number of classrooms were rated lower in quality, but low-scoring classroom still only represented 20 of 358 classrooms overall (7.6 percent) (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). The other end of the scale shows that the number of classrooms rated as “excellent” increased from 18.7 percent in 1997 to 21.6 percent in 2000 (United States Department of Health and Human Services, May 2003). Both the FACES 2003 and 2009 cohorts showed that quality in Head Start continued to be good. The average ECERS-R score of Head Start classrooms is higher than those of other center-based preschool programs (United States Department of Health and Human Services, December 2006). Approximately 70 percent of Head Start children are enrolled in centers that have an ECERS-R score of at least a 5 (on the 7 point system) (
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