Promoting Children's Social-Emotional Skills in Preschool Can Enhance Academic and Behavioral Functioning in Kindergarten: Findings from Head Start REDI.Early Educ Dev. 2013; 24(7)EE
This study examined processes of change associated with the positive preschool and kindergarten outcomes of children who received the Head Start REDI intervention, compared to "usual practice" Head Start. In a large-scale randomized-controlled trial (N = 356 children, 42% African American or Latino, all from low-income families), this study tests the logic model that improving preschool social-emotional skills (e.g., emotion understanding, social problem solving, and positive social behavior) as well as language/emergent literacy skills will promote cross-domain academic and behavioral adjustment after children transition into kindergarten. Validating this logic model, the present study finds that intervention effects on three important kindergarten outcomes (e.g., reading achievement, learning engagement, and positive social behavior) were mediated by preschool gains in the proximal social-emotional and language/emergent literacy skills targeted by the REDI intervention. Importantly, preschool gains in social-emotional skills made unique contributions to kindergarten outcomes in reading achievement and learning engagement, even after accounting for the concurrent preschool gains in vocabulary and emergent literacy skills. These findings highlight the importance of fostering at-risk children's social-emotional skills during preschool as a means of promoting school readiness. The REDI (Research-Based, Developmentally-Informed) enrichment intervention was designed to complement and strengthen the impact of existing Head Start programs in the dual domains of language/emergent literacy skills and social-emotional competencies. REDI was one of several projects funded by the Interagency School Readiness Consortium, a partnership of four federal agencies (the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Administration for Children and Families, the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Education). The projects funded through this partnership were designed to assess how integrative early interventions for at-risk children could promote learning and development across multiple domains of functioning. In addition, the projects were charged with examining processes of change and identifying mechanisms of action by which the early childhood interventions fostered later school adjustment and academic achievement. This study examined such processes of change, with the goal of documenting hypothesized cross-domain influences on kindergarten outcomes. In particular, this study tested whether gains in the proximal language/emergent literacy and social-emotional competencies targeted during Head Start would mediate the REDI intervention effects on kindergarten academic and behavioral outcomes. In addition, it tested the hypothesis that gains in social-emotional competencies during preschool would make unique contributions to intervention effects on both academic and behavioral outcomes, even after accounting for the effects of preschool gains in language and emergent literacy skills.