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Testing Head Start Enhancements on a Large Scale

Head Start Cares logoImpacts on Preschoolers’ Social and Emotional Skills

By Christine Fortunato, Ph. D, SRCD/AAAS Executive Branch Policy Fellow, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

Low-income preschoolers face risks to their social-emotional development that may compromise their futures. While there are promising approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional skills, many of these approaches have not been tested at scale. With that in mind, the Head Start CARES project tested three enhancements to improve teachers’ practices and children’s social-emotional outcomes on a large scale.

What were the three enhancements tested?

  • Preschool PATHS trains teachers to use structured lessons and teaching strategies that promote children’s emotion knowledge and social problem-solving skills.
  • Incredible Years trains teachers to create a classroom climate that promotes positive teacher-child relationships and promotes children’s ability to regulate their own behaviors.
  • Tools of the Mind-Play (one year version) trains teachers on how best to support and promote children’s make-believe play with the explicit goal of strengthening their ability to regulate their emotions and behavior.

All three enhancements changed teachers’ observed practices in the expected ways and improved children’s emotional knowledge in the preschool year.

Preschool PATHS also showed expected improvements on children’s social problem-solving skills and social behaviors. While Incredible Years did not show expected improvements on problem behaviors and executive function skills, it demonstrated improvements in children’s social problem-solving skills and social behaviors. Tools of the Mind-Play did not demonstrate expected impacts on self-regulation or executive function. Finally, there was no evidence that any of the three approaches consistently improved preschooler’s pre-academic skills or kindergarten outcomes. These findings from the Head Start CARES project suggest that evidence-based enhancements can produce some social-emotional impacts in preschoolers when scaled up with appropriate supports.

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