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Resources to Promote Social and Emotional Health and School Readiness in Young Children and Families
A Community Guide

Authors: Jane Knitzer and Jill Lefkowitz
Publication Date: November 2005

This is an excerpt from the full report.

Every parent, every politician, and every teacher want young children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Often the focus is on cognitive skills, early literacy, or early math, and indeed there are exciting new developments in early education. But it is equally important to pay attention to the social and emotional skills that young children develop in their earliest years. These skills—how children manage their feelings, follow directions, concentrate, relate to other children and to teachers, and approach learning—will enable them to succeed as they transition to kindergarten and first grade.

This guide provides information about resources and strategies that families, child care providers, teachers, and others who come into contact with young children every day can use to help children develop the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in school.

Some of the resources and strategies highlighted focus on babies and toddlers, others on preschoolers, and still others on young children facing especially harsh early circumstances (e.g., exposed to domestic violence, abuse). All of the strategies have been used in low-income communities. Some have been evaluated through careful research, and others have been deemed effective by multiple users. Importantly, virtually all the interventions described here work best if they are embedded in a larger community effort to promote resilience and build on the strengths that exist in families and communities.

Four core assumptions shaped the guide:

  • The family plays the most important role in a young child’s life.
  • Responsibility for school readiness lies not with children, but with the adults who care for them and the systems that support them.
  • The first 5 years of life are a critical developmental period.
  • Child development occurs across equally important and interrelated domains—physical and motor, social and emotional, language, and cognitive.

The guide is intended to be especially useful for:

  • Child care providers, preschool and kindergarten teachers, and others who work directly with young children and their families.
  • Families and school readiness coordinators and administrators involved in organizing early childhood school readiness and early literacy campaigns.
  • Family support advocates and others who provide support to parents and other caregivers (e.g., grandparents and foster parents) of young children.
  • Community leaders and coalitions who understand the importance of reaching out to young children and families to ensure early school success.
  • Mental health and other professionals who want to do more to ensure that young children and families get help when they need it.

Section I answers frequently asked questions about why it is important to pay attention to social and emotional development as part of school readiness. Section II provides examples of the resources that are available to help programs and community planners as they seek, intentionally, to promote social and emotional school readiness. It is organized in three parts:

  • Resources to Help Parents describes resources and strategies that can help parents, particularly low-income parents and others raising young children, promote healthy emotional development in young children.
  • Resources to Help Child Care Providers and Teachers describes resources and strategies that can help child care providers and teachers promote healthy social and emotional development and school readiness.
  • Resources to Help Young Children and Families Facing Special Stresses describes resources and strategies that can promote resilience in the most stressed young children and families so that these children, too, can enter school ready to succeed.

Each part provides examples of specific resources that can be embedded into and adapted to particular program and community circumstances.

Section II of this guide highlights several informal and community-based approaches that bring families and community leaders together to develop preventive strategies, connect existing resources better, and take action around high-priority challenges to promote early school success for all young children in the community.

The guide concludes in Section III with a set of questions to guide community action and 10 principles to guide action. This guide complements Spending Smarter: A Funding Guide for Policymakers and Advocates to Promote Social and Emotional Health and School Readiness, as well as a series of issue briefs that the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) has developed over the past several years. (For more information, see Appendix B or Both documents recognize that for every young child to enter school ready to succeed, focusing solely on supporting the early physical, emotional, and cognitive development of young children is not enough. There must also be powerful and sustained attention to ensuring that families can earn enough to support their children, to improving the overall quality of child care and early learning experiences, and es- pecially to ensuring that when young children enter schools, the schools are “ready for them.”

However, the guide also recognizes that for some young children and families, without intentional strategies that are focused on social and emotional well-being, even “ready” schools and “ready” communities may not be enough.