In 2018, roughly half of children who entered school were Kindergarten-ready. That statistic is both daunting and unsurprising for those of us who work in early childhood.
While early childhood continues to be a top bipartisan priority, the systems and supports in place to help children and families before they enter school are fragmented and insufficient. In addition, there is little agreement as to how to best support families and which aspects of school readiness are most important.
But imagine what our world would look like if all children entered school with the academic and socioemotional skills needed to unlock their potential. That’s the goal of the Early Impact portfolio at Overdeck Family Foundation.
Strong foundations for early learning are fundamental to school readiness, just like school readiness is foundational to later success both inside and outside the classroom. Children who begin school with certain skills and competencies are more likely than their peers to experience later academic success, attain higher levels of education, and secure well-paid employment. When supported by caring adults, children’s development can truly flourish.
Children who begin school with certain skills and competencies are more likely than their peers to experience later academic success, attain higher levels of education, and secure well-paid employment.
While all the organizations in our portfolio strive toward similar goals, what became clear to us after five years of grantmaking is that many of us—both inside and outside the Foundation—defined, measured, and approached school readiness differently, which made it difficult to engage in shared learning and collaboration. So in 2019, we committed ourselves to increasing internal and external understanding of what constitutes school readiness, and more specifically, which domains and indicators were most predictive of a child entering school ready to learn and succeed.
The resulting report, titled The Road to Readiness: The Precursors and Practices that Predict School Readiness and Later School Success, aims to understand the key drivers of Kindergarten readiness, the contributing factors throughout a child’s early years, and the parent/adult behaviors that best support child development.
This report is a review of the existing literature, so it does not aim to produce new findings. However, it does synthesize research in a way that helps us as grantmakers understand key outcomes and indicators that lead to school readiness and how we can best support organizations working toward this goal.
Specifically, The Road to Readiness aims to answer the following questions by reviewing and summarizing trends in the literature on early childhood, child development, and school readiness.
- Which domains of school readiness are most predictive of future success?
- Which precursors of school readiness show strong predictive value at each developmental stage?
- Which parenting practices show a strong influence on selected child outcomes?
Based on the review of the literature, we determined that the early skills and competencies that predict school readiness are frequently grouped into four domains: Early Academic Building Blocks, Executive Function, Social-Emotional Functioning, and Physical Well-Being.
A large body of research concludes the importance of all these domains to holistic school readiness; however, language (which fits into Early Academic Building Blocks) and executive function were found to be particularly predictive of later success. This does not imply that the other domains were unimportant: quite the opposite. Growth within one domain was often associated with growth in another domain, signaling that domains interact and grow together.
In response to the second question, the review found that there were many indicators in early childhood that have been linked to school readiness. These indicators serve as milestones that help monitor and support the development of school readiness within each domain. While these were not the only indicators that were important, the review did conclude that, between the ages of 0-3, vocabulary was one of the strongest predictors within the language sub-domain. Between the ages of 3-5, vocabulary, phonological awareness, and letter knowledge were some of the strongest language predictors. We found that Executive Function precursors are interrelated, growing together and building on each other throughout early childhood in a way that was equally predictive.
Finally, this review considered parenting practices that most influence the child outcomes important to school readiness. Surveying the literature revealed the importance of responsive parenting and supportive home learning environments to overall school readiness. Responsive parenting supports development in all domains, but most notably within Social-Emotional Functioning, Executive Function, and language. Supportive home learning environments are made up of learning activities and routines that are foundational to a child’s later success in school. While these were not the only parenting practices that were important, the literature on child development suggests they are predictive pillars of school readiness.
A large body of research concludes the importance of all four domains to holistic school readiness; however, language and executive function were found to be particularly predictive of later success.
We recognize that these four areas are not the only domains of importance, nor do they exist in isolation from the environments surrounding young children. However, we do believe that they play a key role in ensuring children enter Kindergarten “ready for school.” Internally, we are using the conclusions from this report to help guide our selection of priority (and shared) outcomes for the organizations we fund and for our grantmaking going forward.
The early years of a child’s life are a critical time for learning. As such, we hope this report is helpful not only to our grantee partners, but to other organizations, funders, and foundations in early childhood education as they consider how they conduct and measure their work.
We invite you to download the report below and are excited to start a conversation about how you define success in early childhood. If you are interested in an expanded and more detailed version of the report, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.