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Research-based program found to enhance impact of Head Start on school readiness

Head Start, the federal program that provides comprehensive services to low-income children and their families, has had a positive effect on some aspects of school readiness, but not others. A new study shows that a program designed to make it easier to integrate research into the classroom by giving teachers enrichment manuals helped children in both academic and social-emotional areas.

The program, called REDI (for research-based, developmentally informed), was developed and implemented in partnership with Head Start programs in Pennsylvania by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University. An evaluation of the study appears in the November/December 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

Designed to be integrated into existing Head Start programs, REDI featured a research-based curriculum to foster social-emotional learning and enhance language and emergent literacy skills through interactive reading, sound games, and print center activities. In addition, the program offered teachers professional development support, including workshop training and mentoring, to enhance the quality of language use and social-emotional support in the classroom.

Each week, children took home stickers and handouts to keep parents informed of the topics covered at school. Parents also received videotapes with tips on how they could support the program at home.

The researchers evaluated REDI by following 356 children in 44 Head Start classrooms over the course of a year, some of whom were in classrooms in which REDI was used, some of whom were not. They interviewed parents and children, collected ratings from teachers, and observed children in the classroom.

The study found positive effects in academic and social-emotional areas: Compared with children who were in regular Head Start classrooms, children in REDI classrooms showed greater growth in vocabulary, pre-reading skills, emotional understanding, social problem solving, social competence, and learning engagement. In addition, children in REDI classrooms were less aggressive than children in other Head Start classrooms.

"The results of the REDI program validate the strategy of enriching current Head Start programs with emerging research-based curriculum materials and teaching strategies," according to Karen L. Bierman, professor of psychology at the Pennsylvania State University and the study's lead author.

"Given the limited number of hours in the school day, teachers sometimes feel that they must choose between focusing on the cognitive skills or the social-emotional needs of socio-economically disadvantaged students. These findings demonstrate that a dual-focus, integrated intervention model can effectively and simultaneously promote gains in both academic and social-emotional domains of school readiness."


Contact: Andrea Browning
Society for Research in Child Development

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