Interventions for four-year-olds help three-year-olds, too

A new report from MDRC presents the findings for three-year-old children from the Head Start CARES demonstration. This was a large randomised controlled trial in more than 100 Head Start centres across the US. It tested the effects of three different approaches for improving children’s social-emotional competencies: The Incredible Years, PATHS, and Tools of the Mind – Play. The main trial looked at the impact on four-year-old children and this further analysis examines the impact on three-year-olds who were in the same classes.

The results show:

  • Overall, the approaches increased teachers’ social-emotional instruction, but did not affect other aspects of practice or classroom climate in mixed-age classes. The approaches also improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • The Incredible Years did not produce a statistically significant improvement in teachers’ use of classroom and behaviour-management strategies, but it improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social behaviours and closeness with teachers.
  • PATHS improved teachers’ social-emotional instruction and Tools of the Mind – Play improved scaffolding of children’s play. However, there was little evidence that the approaches improved teacher reports of three-year-olds’ social-emotional outcomes.

The findings suggest that it is possible for the benefits of social-emotional interventions to extend to three-year-olds, even when the interventions are designed primarily for four-year-olds. In this study, these benefits were driven primarily by The Incredible Years.

Source: Impacts of Social-Emotional Curricula on Three-Year-Olds: Exploratory Findings from the Head Start CARES Demonstration (2014), MDRC.

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.

Key components of successful coaching

Head Start CARES (Classroom-based Approaches and Resources for Emotion and Social Skill Promotion) is a large-scale, US national research demonstration to test a one-year programme to improve pre-kindergarteners’ (age 4–5) social and emotional readiness for school. To facilitate the delivery of the programme, teachers attended training workshops and worked with coaches throughout the school year. In this report from MDRC, researchers present lessons learned from Head Start CARES about coaching social-emotional curricula in a large and complex early childhood education system. Key findings include:

  • Successful coaches exhibited a combination of skills in three important areas: knowledge of the programme, general coaching and consultation skills, and knowledge of and experience in early childhood development and/or teaching.
  • Incorporating coaching into day-to-day practices requires flexibility and is necessary for implementation success.
  • Site-level administrators must be actively engaged in supporting and supervising coaching as well as general implementation processes.

Source: Coaching as a Key Component in Teachers’ Professional Development: Improving Classroom Practices in Head Start Settings (2012), MDRC