Evidence on improving preschool children’s social and emotional competence

MRDC has released findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration, an evaluation of the effects of three classroom-based approaches to enhancing children’s social-emotional development on a large scale. These programmes were The Incredible Years Teacher Training Programme (which focuses on teachers’ management of the classroom and of children’s behaviour); Preschool PATHS (which uses structured lessons to help children learn about emotions and interact with peers appropriately); and Tools of the Mind–Play (a one-year version of the Tools of the Mind curriculum that promotes children’s learning through structured “make-believe” play).

The demonstration was conducted in the US with 17 Head Start providers (similar in some ways to the UK’s Sure Start programme) that varied by geographic location, organisational setting, and size. Centres operated by these providers were randomly assigned to one of the three interventions or to a “business-as-usual” control group. Key findings included:

  • PATHS showed small to moderate improvements in children’s knowledge and understanding of emotion (emotion knowledge), social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours.
  • The Incredible Years improved children’s emotion knowledge, social problem-solving skills, and social behaviours. It did not produce expected impacts on children’s problem behaviour and executive function (except for highest-risk children).
  • Tools of the Mind–Play did not demonstrate expected impacts on executive function or self-regulation; it produced only positive impacts on emotion knowledge.

The authors note that the estimated impacts should be interpreted as the effects of the interventions beyond any effects of the existing Head Start programme in these classrooms. Overall, findings showed that evidence-based approaches can improve preschool children’s social-emotional competence when implemented at scale with appropriate supports.

Source: Impact Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.

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